Ryan Palm ’07 returns to Hurst to head Neurodiversity Center

Ryan PalmAfter a yearlong national search, Mercyhurst University today announces the appointment of alumnus and former associate director for Advancement Ryan Palm ‘07 to lead its new Brad McGarry Center for Neurodiversity.

Palm assumes his role as the center’s inaugural executive director on Monday, Nov. 6.

“We are thrilled to have Ryan return to his alma mater and head this highly regarded initiative,” said university President Kathleen A. Getz, Ph.D.

“Ryan represents the ideal combination of dedication, knowledge, experience, and community-mindedness that we strongly believe will play a vital role in advancing Mercyhurst’s commitment to neurodiverse students.”

The university also announces additional personnel measures as Palm looks to build a formidable team of experts intent on taking the center to the next level.

Dedicated in June 2022, the center honors one of the nation’s best-known advocates of college students on the autism spectrum, Brad McGarry. McGarry headed the award-winning Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst since 2014 before being diagnosed with ALS, which forced him to step down a year ago. 

Under McGarry’s leadership, AIM grew from an enrollment of four students to more than 70 today, delivering impressive outcomes that not only benefitted his students but propelled a whole new set of talented and productive employees into today’s workplace. 

The university’s commitment to the new center, which will house the AIM program and related initiatives, is a signal that McGarry’s efforts in championing the needs of students on the spectrum will remain strong for years to come, and one that Palm takes personally.

As an alumnus, Palm is a devoted supporter of Mercyhurst and its Mercy mission, citing the enormous impact that the university has had on his personal, social, and academic development. As a former university fundraiser, he often worked alongside McGarry in securing financial opportunities for AIM. As a former alumni director, he has many established relationships with the university’s graduates, including those of the AIM program. And, in his capacity at Erie Insurance the past two years, he gained valuable experience collaborating with community organizations as senior community outreach specialist. He also put his Intelligence Studies degree to work as a senior intelligence analyst.

“I am incredibly excited to return to Mercyhurst, and grateful to Dr. Laura Zirkle for giving me the opportunity to help build this incredible center,” Palm said. “I genuinely enjoyed working with Brad during my time in Advancement and have tremendous respect for the program he helped build.

“Mercyhurst has a long history of being a pioneering institution, and I am eager for the opportunities that lie ahead for taking our center to new heights in the coming years and continuing our role as a pioneer for higher education and career opportunities for our students.”

Meanwhile, Zirkle, vice president for student life and chair of the search committee, had this to say: “We looked near and far and have no doubt that Ryan is the perfect person to begin this next chapter. He brings exceptional experience from positions he has held both at Mercyhurst and at Erie Insurance.

“He will play a crucial role in shaping the program’s direction, expanding services, and promoting widespread awareness and understanding of neurodiverse students and their capacity to lead independent and productive lives.” 

In related developments, Laurie Baker has been promoted to assistant director of AIM, supporting Amanda Mulder, who was appointed director earlier this year. Both Mulder and Baker have been affiliated with the AIM program for some time and are eager to assist Palm with advancing the new center. 

Mulder earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Special Education at Mercyhurst. Before being appointed director of AIM, she held the position on an interim basis following McGarry’s departure. She also continued her role as an AIM student support coordinator, which she began in 2019, and oversees the CREATE program, a nationally acclaimed summer experience designed to help potential AIM students determine whether they are ready for the demands of college life.

Baker is a 14-year veteran of Mercyhurst, having worked with diverse populations as an AIM support coordinator, instructor of early childhood education, and academic success coach. She earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education from Gannon University and her master’s in Special Education from Mercyhurst.

“We see great potential in this formidable new team chosen to lead the McGarry Center,” Zirkle said. “With their combined experience and innovative approaches, we are confident that they will make a significant impact in advancing our understanding of the neurodivergent population and providing support for those in need.”