Ancilla College is taking its first steps toward launching an on-campus center focused on serving students on the high-functioning side of the autism spectrum. President Ken Zirkle says the program, which he believes would be the only one like it in the state, will be primarily focused on helping students master social and cultural aspects of life beyond the classroom. The school is in the process of developing an online resource for college-ready students with Asperger’s Syndrome, a group who Zirkle says has very few avenues for education beyond high school.
The goal, Zirkle says, is to create a program of national prominence. "We want to not just become okay at it, we want to become absolutely outstanding at doing this." He says it provides an opportunity for the college to do something good for the right type of reasons. He says Ancilla has the academic team and campus environment in place to help the students "become very, very productive" once they graduate.
Ancilla says the model is patterned after the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania. Zirkle says plans call for students receiving an associate’s degree from Ancilla to have a pathway to transfer to Mercyhurst to complete their bachelor’s.
Funding for the web-based resource is from a more than $20,000 grant from the Ball Brothers Venture Fund, which is administered by Independent Colleges of Indiana. Ancilla says it will also begin developing another online component to help give teachers at the Marshall County campus and at other ICI member schools the training and strategies to help with communication, social interaction and talent development unique to dealing with students with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The school will work with local, national and regional experts on autism to develop the on-campus training initiatives.
He tells Inside INdiana Business the goal is to ultimately create a nationally-recognized program.