Name: Alyssa Kushner
From: New Brunswick, New Jersey
Grade: Undergraduate Senior
School: Rutgers University
I am volunteer with the College Support Program for Students on the
Autism Spectrum at Rutgers University. This is a program for students
who attend Rutgers and are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder
which is a developmental disability that impairs social and
communication skills and can affect one’s
ability to form relationships and succeed in school.
My role is being a peer mentor. This means that I meet with my mentee
once a week at a location that we decide on together to check in and
go over how he is doing in school, address any concerns he has, and
to serve as a mentor for him throughout his college career. I also
attend a weekly check in/training with the other mentors and
supervisors. My student wanted more of a social outlet with this
program, so we meet weekly to get lunch and catch up about our weeks.
He is an engineer major and wants to do better in school, so I help
him figure out ways to succeed in classes and give him advice about
internship and job searching.
Most of the students in our program just want to make friends and have a
normal college career and its amazing that they have this program.
It’s a wonderful way for them learn how to build relationships and get
advice from other students. One of the most rewarding feelings is
when my supervisor told me that my mentee has never wanted to be a
part of the program in the past because he does not recognize that he
needs the help, but because of my mentoring he now loves the program
and wishes to continue the next semester. Also, she told me that in
one of their meetings he mentioned to her that he loves how I tell
him about my life and that it makes him feel like an equal to him and
a true friend. As I said, a lot of these students just want to make
relationships in college like any other college student and I have
the pleasure of helping my mentee gain the skills to do so.
It can be really tough working with someone on the spectrum because
often they come off as uninterested, lack communication skills, and
don’t always put in equal effort. I have learned that not every student
attending college has it easy, and to never judge someone. You don’t
know what they’re going through. Having an open mind and a kind heart
is the best way to have a happier experience.
I plan to get my Masters in Clinical Social Work in the Fall and I want
to work with people that have mental health issues or developmental
disabilities. Being a part of this volunteer program and working with
other mental health related programs can help change the world.
Creating a supportive environment is the key to success for students
with disabilities and I will continue to make a difference.