Campus Links program earns national attention
Posted on October 09, 2017
Grand Valley was listed among the top 10 best colleges with programs for students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder by Online College Plan, a web resources company.
The company touted the Campus Links program, a five-year-old peer program that matches students with ASD with trained student mentors. Last year, Friendship Circle, a Michigan nonprofit organization, also gave Grand Valley high marks for having resources and supporting students with ASD.
These rankings were not news to Vince Hrnyak, a senior geology major from Grand Rapids. Hrnyak was among the first cohort of students with ASD to participate in Campus Links. He said the program was among the reasons he chose to enroll at Grand Valley. Campus Links is a two-tier program (residential and non-residential) established to provide support for students with ASD as they acclimate to Grand Valley.
"Through the program I met people I can get along with, and the university accommodates my disability," Hrnyak said.
His mentor for the past two years has been Cameron Todd, a business management major. Like the other six Campus Links mentors, Todd is responsible for checking in with Hrnyak and his other two mentees daily.
Todd said daily check-ins can be connecting by phone or text, eating together, playing video games or another social activity. "I wanted to do this because I saw this as an opportunity to help people and to be exposed to everyone, to be able to adapt to different kinds of people," he said.
Shontaye Witcher, director of Disability Support Resources, said the goals of Campus Links are to help mentees build independence, self-confidence and leadership skills. Most mentors tend to be students who are in what Witcher called the "helping fields" of social work, special education or psychology, but all students are welcome to apply.
"If a student has a caring and compassionate demeanor and wants to work with students who have a disability, we encourage them to apply," Witcher said. "Most of our students are interested in business or engineering. Having mentors in these fields are helpful for the students."
Max Granitz, a senior writing major, completed a summer internship at Friendship Circle, writing blogs and working on web development projects. Granitz, from West Bloomfield, wrote about participating in Campus Links and what it's like being a college student who has Asperger's syndrome; read his posts at friendshipcircle.org/blog/.