January 19, 2011

Spotlight On: Graduate Assistant Erin Grinnan

Ask anyone intimately familiar with the College Program for Students with Asperger's Syndrome what makes the support program most effective, and you'll hear most commonly one answer: the graduate assistants. It's no secret to those of us involved on a day-to-day basis; the relationships that develop between a GA and the student he or she supports is integral to success.

What makes a GA "effective" is sometimes hard to define, but the essence seems to be connected to how GAs perceive the experience, and how fully they develop a personal connection with students.  

Here, in her own words, is a description of this experience by Erin Grinnan, a GA involved for the final semester with the program. Erin is extremely effective. Read her comments carefully, and you'll recognize the subjective experience that makes her one of the most competent professionals-in-training I've ever supervised.

The experience, you'll see, was as much about her personal growth as it was about the support she provided.

"As I enter the last semester working at the College Support Program for Students with Asperger’s Syndrome, it is bittersweet. The experience of working with each individual has been life changing. When I started this job I knew little to nothing about Asperger’s, only what I had read in textbooks. As I leave the College Program I am now looking forward to beginning a career in which I can serve exclusively individuals on the autism spectrum.

I can still recall my first day getting to meet the students I would be working with. I had no idea what to expect or how things would go. I questioned whether this was the right thing for me to do, and even if I would be good at it. When one becomes employed through the College Program there are uncertainties you must face, which in turn brings about a certain amount of anxiety. Each graduate assistant has their own method that works best for them and the specific needs of their students; it is figuring all this out that is the key to success for both you and the students that you serve. I thought to myself, “I wonder if my students will like me?” and “Will I be able to provide the assistance that they need in order to be successful?” I quickly learned that the relationships I would develop with students would take time and understanding, but once the relationships were formed they would last a lifetime.

All along I had expected to make an impact on the students I was working with; what I did not expect was the huge impact they would have on my life.

Getting to know each and every student who has entered this program has been a special experience. Each is unique and wonderful, and each arrives with an individual set of needs that must be met.

The College Support Program for Students with Asperger’s provides an opportunity unlike any other for Graduate Assistants. I believe that the hands-on experience that I have had during the last two years is priceless. I would not trade this time in my life for ANYTHING!!"

Thanks for all your hard work, Erin. Good luck in your future endeavors. And thank you for making a difference.