AIM student-turned-tour-guide leads students, staff to Music City

mercyhurst's AIM program travels to Nashville, TNAll because of Brady Esham’s passion to connect, students and staff of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) were able to take their longest journey yet—a nine-hour road trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

Esham, a native of Ocean City, Maryland, is a junior in the AIM program majoring in Early Childhood and Special Education.

Knowing that travel experiences are a priority for AIM, Esham sought program director Amanda Mulder’s support in attending the College Autism Summit so students could connect with their contemporaries at other schools and meet representatives from companies that hire students on the spectrum.

There was only one condition: Esham had to plan the trip.

On Oct. 16, four staff and three AIM students packed into a Mercyhurst van and drove to Music City. Esham had planned the dates, found the Airbnb, and even chose places to go while in Nashville. Under his direction, the AIM team attended the Country Music Hall of Fame, walked around Centennial Park, and saw a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

The most exciting part of the trip for Esham was the summit itself. He spoke on a panel in front of an audience of over 300 people, participated in a Q&A, and was even asked to be interviewed for a documentary. Many of Esham’s digital connections were at the summit and he was thrilled to meet them in person.

To conclude the trip, Esham had the idea to host dinner for some Ohio State students at the Airbnb. A member of the AIM staff helped him cook and the group spent the evening talking and playing games.

Both the staff and students found the trip—and Esham’s itinerary—to be very motivational. It is in these instances when AIM participants realize how lucky they are to have such support for their program on campus.

Esham believes that Mercyhurst’s AIM program has set a precedent of what autism in higher education should look like, and he hopes to inspire more universities to create their own programs so others can feel as lucky as he does.

“There’s so much more out there and you really don’t even know until you see it,” Esham said.

Mulder added that the trip was made possible through grants and gifts. 

PHOTO: Members of the AIM group networking and exploring Nashville recently include, from left, students Brady Esham, Carlos De la Incera, and Nick Klein; AIM Director Amanda Mulder, intern Becky Ferguson, and staffers Carrie Hornyak and Tacie Thomas.