Pace Magazine

Expanding Support for Neurodiverse Students

January 18, 2024
Teacher tutoring student with just hands and laptop pictured

Pace has long been at the forefront of providing students with whatever they may need to succeed—a mission that particularly applies to our neurodiverse students.

Thanks to innovative programs such as our Ongoing Academic Social Instructional Support program (OASIS), and faculty members such as School of Education Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for Special Education Jennifer Pankowski, EdD, the University doesn’t just talk to the talk when it comes to empowering our students.

This fall, Pankowski was awarded the NYSED Enhancing Supports and Services for Students with Disabilities for Postsecondary Success (SWDPS) Grant. Totaling $63,807, the grant ensures that students with disabilities at Pace will now have access to a range of expanded support services, including one-on-one meetings with social workers and academic coaches, adaptive technology for accommodations, and training for neurodiversity support in the Learning Commons.

“This grant allows us to take what we already know we’re doing really well and make it accessible to students across all three campuses,” said Pankowski.

“This grant allows us to take what we already know we’re doing really well and make it accessible to students across all three campuses.”

As Pankowski notes, the grant is helping the University better bridge the gap between the educational setting and the real world by providing students with accommodations that are appropriate for each student’s respective fields. Laptops designed for certification exams such as the bar exam or the CPA exam, for example, ensure a student can become familiar with the machine that they would actually be accommodated with when taking those tests. Pankowski believes this philosophy—empowering students to become comfortable with tools that don’t solely exist in a classroom—is incredibly important and is not always the norm at secondary and postsecondary schools.

“What happens very often students, are given all these accommodations that don’t carry over to college, grad school, the workforce; it becomes this learned helplessness and we want to squash that.”

The grant has also enabled Pankowski and the University to look for ways to continually make Pace a more accessible and fruitful place for students no matter their disability. An order of smart pens, for instance, will enable students who might otherwise have difficulty processing lectures to have a reliable resource alongside them.

“These smart pens will essentially translate the lecture live, which is really fantastic for students with dyslexia for example, or fine motor or auditory processing issues. We want these to be accessible without a hefty cost.”

Pankowski expressed additional excitement about the way in which this grant is opening up conversations with each school at Pace regarding their particular needs, helping increase accommodations that actually make an impact—as she notes, helping to expand upon and diversify what faculty and students know is already working, and change course when something is not. And by collaborating with the Learning Commons to engage in systematic workshop training, this initiative is helping neurodiverse students receive improved academic support.

All in all, this grant—and Pace’s continued commitment to empowering students with learning disabilities—is helping students reach their full potential not just as students, but as individuals ready to make an impact on the world.

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