When Rob first started as a Disability Services and Sociology major at IUP, he noticed a lot of social issues around campus pretty quickly. He noticed that his campus wasn’t the most disability-friendly place, that there were stigmas, labels, and prejudices that surrounded students on campus. Rob knew that if this stuff was ever going to change IUP needed fearless advocates, people that had strong voices and that didn’t back down in the face of adversity, people that were resilient. Rob took his passions for education, large-scale programming, social issues and disabilities, and became an advocate. He fought for all of the causes that he was passionate about and he was determined to have people listen so that he could cause a huge social change on the IUP campus.
Standing with APSCUF
In the fall of 2016, Rob and other students in the IUP community stood in support of professors participating in the faculty strike. Rob alongside other students in The Department of Sociology walked all over IUP’s campus to provide the professors, with snacks drinks and messages of positivity to lift their spirits. Also, they wore T-shirts that had messages of support, and their departmental name.
Autism Awareness Week
Rob’s largest contribution to the IUP was designing and implementing Autism Awareness Week, which he ran for two of its three years. Autism Awareness Week is an annual week-long event that takes place in April because April is autism awareness month. Each day during the event there is a different event that promotes, awareness, education, and advocacy. Rob’s fraternity Phi Sigma Pi has supported and sponsored the event for the past three years. All of the donations and proceeds made from the event go to Camp Lakey Gap in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The first year that we hosted the event we had a total of 1340 people. For our second year in 2016, we doubled those numbers, had 5 more campus organizations help us, and had three new members on the faculty discussion panel. The events for this year were as follows:
Piece by Piece and Pin it Blue: For this event different groups helping out with Autism Awareness Week were spread out across campus at tables passing out pins and a two-sided sheet the first side is an infographic and the second is the list of events for the week. In addition to this each station was equipped with puzzle pieces and markers which we used to have students who were passing by, fill out one that says how autism has impacted them, someone they know, or just show their support for autism awareness. The puzzle pieces were then collected and displayed in a public location on campus where they were viewed for the month of April.
Autism the Musical: For this event Dr. Joann Migyanka, a professor in the IUP Department of Communication Disorders, Special Education and Disability Services, showed the film “Autism the Musical” (A documentary film that follows six children with autism and their families through a program that supports individuals with autism through the use of music), and then lead a discussion about the film.
Shine a Light on Autism Panel Discussion: The panel discussion, was held in the Hadley Union Building Delaware Room. Panelists discussed autism and took questions from persons in the audience. Panelists included Dr. Diane Shinberg, associate professor of sociology who also serves as an officer of the Disability and Society Section of the American Sociology Association; Dr. Laura Knight, professor of psychology, who studies the assessment and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders; Dr. Sarah Brown, a faculty member in Child Development and Family Relations; and Dr. Todd Van Weiren from the Office of Disability Support Service. The panel was co-facilitated by Maddie Nissel and myself.
Autism Awareness Photoshoot Project: The photo shoot event was a continuation of the project started in 2015. Students, staff, and faculty were able to come in get their faces painted and then get their pictures with a variety of signs made by the brothers in Phi Sigma Pi, to show support for autism awareness. I am going to post the photos on the Autism Awareness page so that people can gain access to them later, and turn the photos into a college that is shaped like a puzzle piece. Doing this allows us to illustrate all of the people on campus who support autism awareness.
Light it up Blue: Autism Awareness Walk: The walk began and ended in the Putt Hall-Delaney Hall courtyard. Before the walk, tables were set up for face painting as well as a table with pins that people can get and wear during the walk. Dr. Cathy Dugan, director of the IUP Office of Disability Support Services, opened the pre-walk program and introduced Oktober Appleby and myself to start the event. After the walk, Oktober and I closed the event by presenting awards and transitioning into our new roles.
For the future of this event, Rob sees other schools hosting this event at the same time as IUP’s event. Rob really wants this event to grow because it has done so much good in just the past three years. Rob wants this program to act as a catalyst to show not only individuals with autism that they should proudly identify but individuals with disabilities in general to have that same experience. Also, he also wants this program to educate individuals so that we can combat and eliminate negative stigmas associated with disability.
ASL and Deaf Awareness
When Rob came to IUP, they had just decided to close the Deaf Education major, had he know that it was an option that is where he would be right now because when he started as a Disability Services major, he fell in love with American Sign Language (ASL). In fact, it was the first foreign language that Rob understood. Rob had this drive to learn as much ASL as he could, but sadly because of the Deaf Education major and the Deaf Studies minor were no longer being available, he could only take up to ASL II. So Rob did what he does best, and he spread awareness all over campus about ASL using his position as a community assistant to make people aware of ASL through his programming requirements. Rob pulled together friends and peers to revive the IUP Sign Language Club, where he served as president for 3 semesters. In his role as president, he built and maintained a relationship with the Indiana County Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing alongside by advisor Dr. Annah Hill. Rob wanted so much more than this though he was determined to do three things: (a) get ASL recognized as a foreign language, (b) bring back the Deaf Studies minor, and (c) bring back the Deaf Education major. These were pretty ambitious goals to have, being an undergraduate student, but he accomplished two of them with the help of his advisor and his peers from IUP Sign Language Club. Rob got ASL recognized as a set of courses that could meet the foreign language requirement, and by building interest in ASL, he got the Deaf Studies minor back.