Mercyhurst's CREATE program: Pioneering college preparation for neurodivergent students

2023 CREATE participants make a visit to downtown Erie.

While still shuffling through last-minute applications and interviewing prospective students, 群P无码University already has 19 high school students accepted for CREATE, a college simulation program for neurodivergent students designed to evaluate their readiness for college life.聽

Led by Amanda Mulder, director of the Autism Initiative at 群P无码(AIM), CREATE typically enrolls between 20 and 25 students on the autism spectrum each summer. To date, this year鈥檚 cohort includes students from the tri-state area, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, and Texas.聽
During the three-week program, participants live and dine on campus, take courses and workshops, and experience vocational opportunities with Erie businesses.聽

The process of assessing students鈥 college readiness is complicated. In collaborating with neurodivergent individuals, there is no 鈥渙ne size fits all,鈥 Mulder explained. Each participant is evaluated in terms of their personal adaptability, which is why the program is committed to replicating the college experience with all its varied academic, social, and extra-curricular activities.聽

A day in the life of a CREATE student begins with breakfast, followed by College 101, which familiarizes the group with university departments and other services and opportunities on campus. Students also take a three-credit college course; this year鈥檚 choices are English and Cyber Security. After lunch, they participate in a mini-lecture series introducing them to different courses, faculty, and lecture styles. After dinner, there鈥檚 a study hall and an assortment of informal social activities.聽

Throughout the three weeks, socialization takes a front seat since neurodivergent individuals often have challenges in that area. A favorite event is The Amazing Race, a challenge-based experience in which students are transported to different Erie sites and encouraged to step out of their comfort zone: ask for directions or request help; in one challenge, students are tasked with asking a stranger to take their picture.聽
Mulder said that students are always accompanied by CREATE staff, 群P无码faculty, and student volunteers.

Another popular event is 鈥淐hopped,鈥 a competitive culinary experience in which students engage with the staff of Parkhurst Dining, the university鈥檚 food service provider, to create a meal from only the items provided to them.聽

Mulder said these activities are challenging but necessary to prove to the students that they can accomplish things that only a small percentage of the population dares to do. Likewise, it is rewarding for staff, faculty, and 群P无码student volunteers to see small confidences begin to emerge.聽

The students experience distinctive Erie highlights like visiting Presque Isle State Park or enjoying an Erie Seawolves game. They also take vocational trips where they can learn about job opportunities. This year鈥檚 outings include Erie Insurance, which has hired AIM alumni in the past, and another of Erie鈥檚 more prominent employers.

After completing the program, all students receive a formal written assessment documenting their performance throughout CREATE and a plan for preparing for college life.聽

Some students later enroll in AIM and pursue a four-year degree at Mercyhurst. Others choose to attend different colleges armed with the confidence and readiness they gained from CREATE. Some students learn independently or through staff recommendations that they need more time to prepare before successfully pursuing college.聽

鈥淲hat鈥檚 nice is that the juniors can work on the skills they need to develop during their senior year and return to CREATE again if they would like to reevaluate their college readiness,鈥 Mulder said.聽

Registrations will be accepted until June 14. To learn more or to apply for CREATE, please visit mercyhurst.edu/aim. Further questions may be directed to Amanda Mulder at amulder@mercyhurst.edu.


FILE PHOTO: 2023 CREATE participants make a visit to downtown Erie.聽