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Mercyhurst set to ‘Light It Up Blue’ for autism

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Brad McGarry

Mercyhurst University’s O’Neil Tower will be bathed in blue light at dusk Thursday as Mercyhurst joins a global autism awareness campaign dubbed “Light It Up Blue.”

Hundreds of buildings and other landmarks around the world – from One World Trade Center in New York City to Egypt’s Great Pyramid – will Light It Up Blue this year to mark World Autism Awareness Day. Mercyhurst, home to a pioneering college program for students on the autism spectrum, has been taking part since 2011.

Brad McGarry, director of the Autism/Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM), said, “We are very excited to participate in Light It Up Blue for the fifth year in a row. At Mercyhurst we have been doing everything we can to support our students and raise awareness about autism.”

The blue lights will go on at 8 p.m. and the public is invited to campus to view the display. The students, families, staff and faculty of AIM will gather on the steps of Old Main for a group photo.

AIM was founded in 2008 to meet the unique needs of the growing population of college students diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorder and has been receiving national attention ever since.

It is currently rolling out a Career Path Program, designed to ensure that AIM graduates are employable following graduation and to help prepare them for success in the work world.

On March 27, McGarry accompanied four AIM students to New York City to take part in a special workshop sponsored by The Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership (ASTEP) and Big Four accounting firm PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). Titled “Explore Ability,” the exclusive half-day event allowed students with disabilities to interact with PwC professionals about professional services, disability in the workplace, and recruiting tips to help individuals with disabilities showcase their potential. 

While in New York, the Mercyhurst group was also invited to meet with several autism advocacy groups, including Autism Speaks, which sponsors the Light It Up Blue campaign to “shine a light on autism.” McGarry is pictured in the Autism Speaks international headquarters with a poster promoting the campaign. The photo was taken by Linda Federico-O’Murchu of NBC News, who spent much of the day with the group.

Earlier Thursday, AIM will host its second annual recognition dinner. All 31 students in AIM and their families and faculty/staff mentors are invited.

Five seniors graduating from AIM this year will be honored. Mercyhurst President Dr. Thomas J. Gamble will be presented with the Dianne Rogers Legacy Award, named for AIM’s founder who retired from Mercyhurst last year. The award will recognize his ongoing support for AIM. David Cherico, Mercyhurst’s director of purchasing, will also be honored with a Rogers Legacy Award for his support of AIM students.