Win Stevens was summoned to his professor’s office—and he was expecting praise. He had practiced his presentation for communications class relentlessly—recording his rehearsals and listening to them over and over.
Stevens needed the repetition because his dyslexia hampered his efforts to memorize the speech by reading. The continuous practice was time-consuming, but Stevens wanted to become a radio show host and the communications class was key to his dream.
The professor wasn’t impressed with Stevens’ perseverance over a learning disability.
He accused the Marshall University student of cheating.
Stevens was crushed.
That experience led to a new career for Stevens, who is now the coordinator of disability services for Germanna Community College.
Stevens uses his experiences to bolster struggling students. And he uses a unique model to reach students with autism.
This past school year, Stevens’ department helped 341 students with disabilities. More and more, those students have an autism spectrum disorder. Last year, 37 students had autism. In 2007, Stevens helped 10 students with autism. And he assumes there are just as many Germanna students with autism who don’t seek help through the disability services center.
When students do seek help, there are a variety of services available. Some receive accommodations to take exams in a testing center instead of a classroom, extra time for tests or assignments or transcribed notes.Stevens also offers a program that pairs a student with a disability with a mentor. It’s a model he developed while in graduate school.
“It’s very empowering for the students,” said Tracy Harrington, Rappahannock district manager for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Harrington works with young adults with disabilities to help prepare them for jobs. Increasingly, clients are choosing higher education.
“We encourage our clients to start at community college because it’s such a nice way to transition from high school,” Harrington said. “And at Germanna, they just do a great job working with students and trying to provide accommodations.”
The one-on-one mentoring is key for students with autism who need help navigating college life and social skills, Harrington said.
“Very often, people are capable of college-level work—often it’s the soft skills that are the biggest challenge,” she said. “But it’s exciting to see them pursue education and, with the right supports, be successful.”
Stevens delights in those successes, too. His office wall is papered with acceptance letters from four-year colleges. Each letter was sent to a student helped by the disability services department.
Stevens becomes personally invested in each student, said Devon Geary, who used Germanna’s disability services in 2008. A rare genetic disorder made it difficult for Geary to walk and she fainted often.
In fact, she fainted moments after meeting Stevens for the first time. She fell out of her wheelchair and convulsed on the floor.
Stevens helped in the moment and offered longer term academic and emotional support.
“He looked at me and said, ‘I can help you,’ and that completely changed my life. Win is, I believe, one of Germanna’s greatest treasures,” she said.
In class one day, Geary fainted. A classmate ran to get Stevens.
“He sat on the floor with me waiting for me to wake up,” Geary said. “It was kind of like having a dad on campus, in a really cool way.”
Geary later became a disability services coordinator at Amherst College, and saw the behind-the-scenes work involved in helping students. She realized her situation made for a lot of paperwork and problem-solving.
“In those moments, I was overcome with emotion and gratitude that Win didn’t see it like that,” she said.