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The Support Our Students Need

By Alec Schemmel and Caroline Dowden | 12/15/16 9:33pm | Updated 12/15/16 9:33pm
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Attending an academically challenging college like American University can be difficult and stressful for students – especially for those managing learning disabilities, time management and stress.

American University was ranked the 71st best national university by U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges in 2015. While AU is no Ivy League school, the focus on academic achievement is very similar.

“I went to a pretty difficult high school, but when I got to college, it went from zero to sixty at the drop of a hat,” John Slights, a senior, said. “I just wasn’t used to it… I was used to quick math homework and a couple of chapters for English class, and I would be done in a few hours. Everything started so quickly here… I had to figure out how to manage my time.”

The academic rigor is not the only element that makes AU a challenging school. Students are also extremely ambitious compared to other colleges, increasing the pressure to succeed. Students pull all-nighters in the library or are seen stress eating at the Terrace Dining Room.

However, despite the challenging academic environment, students facing mental health difficulties still have a fair chance at academic success and can look to the Academic Support and Access Center (ASAC) for support.

Nancy Sydnor-Greenberg is the coordinator of ASAC. “The program is open to any student regardless of whether or not they have a disability,” she said. “We have a lot of academic skills workshops, we have tutoring: free math tutoring here in the ASAC, free science, we have free tutoring in macro and micro. So, that’s a really good resource for students.”

Spencer Hurwitz, a sophomore who visits the ASAC regularly, said the program made his transition into college a lot smoother. “The biggest thing was putting me in touch with resources like the student tutors,” Hurwitz said. “They helped me set up appointments with math tutors and with writing tutors for when I had writing assignments and for help with my papers.”

In order to receive the ASAC office’s in-depth support and accommodations, each student must provide the proper paperwork from a licensed medical provider that discusses the student’s diagnosis and how it may affect their educational functioning. According to Brian Lee, associate counselor, this discussion provides guidance for the specific type of accommodations each student needs.

If the proper documentation is received, and the student’s disability is confirmed, students are then prompted to initiate an intake meeting with a counselor like Lee to determine appropriate accommodations.

An average student working with the ASAC office for disability services can have testing accommodations such as extra time. Some students can also use computers to “help those who may have language based disabilities or problems with executive functioning,” said Lee. The computer is commonly useful to those students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who process their thoughts more quickly than others, Lee said. Students can also be offered a limited distraction environment for exam and test taking.

In addition, students have access to class notes taken by designated note takers. Some students require certain technological devices, such as Kerwil, to help with assigned readings.

Finally, further tutoring crosses lines between students with documented accommodations and the general student population looking for help. Lee noted a large number of students without disabilities are reaching out to the ASAC office, which he pointed to an another example of AU’s academic rigor.

Sometimes individuals with disabilities often do not seek help, Lee said, because they were receiving similar accommodations in high school, and they want to be more independent in college. “Some students are never even diagnosed to begin with,” said Lee.

However, “those students [who do eventually reach out] become aware of their strengths and weaknesses,” Lee said. “The pace of college does not allow you to sidestep those things you are challenged by.” Students who start working with the ASAC office begin to have a much clearer picture of how to approach college, which is what the center exists to do.