Mentor of the Month: Nabia

As a mentor in the College Steps program at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) - Loudoun campus, Nabia is known for her positive attitude. She is currently studying psychology and plans to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University upon graduation from NVCC. Two of her personal strengths are organization and writing, which she uses generously to help others.

Nabia says that helping other students with things like note-taking, essay composition and general organization skills outside of the classroom has helped improve her own study habits.

When asked what she enjoys most about being mentor, Nabia says, “Watching the students improve and become better socially and academically over time and feeling like I have helped make a difference.”


Michael's Story

Michael Schiro knew in his heart he was going to continue his studies beyond high school. He was interested in computer science and like many young people his age, had dreams of going to college. Because Michael is on the Autism Spectrum, his parents were hopeful but unsure. Throughout his elementary school years, Michael was a bright and curious student, but as he moved onto middle and high school, became easily frustrated and sometimes quick to anger.

While peers were receiving college acceptance letters, Michael’s story was taking a different turn. He applied to three colleges and interviewed with university staff in charge of coordinating accommodations for students with special needs. He was rejected by all of them.

“The modifications offered in K-12 were a double-edged sword,” said his mother, Mary. “He was capable of doing the work, but extremely disappointed by even the smallest ‘failure.’”

A New Direction

Discouraged but determined, Michael and his mother reached out to the Assistant Director of Special Education in their Stamford Connecticut school district. By law, Michael was entitled to educational services until the age of 21. What those services would look like, however, was an unknown. Determined to ensure Michael had a shot at an education that would lead to a stable and fulfilling career, Mary and the school administrator did some research and came across College Steps.

Together with Michael, his family, school officials and the College Steps staff, the team developed an Individualized College Plan (ICP) that would provide customized classroom support through a peer mentor-based model. The program allowed Michael to attend Norwalk Community College (NCC) while living at home. The goal was to help him work toward the behaviors, independence and academics needed to successfully transition from high school into a post-secondary education.

Michael began taking classes at NCC in the Fall of 2015 and was part of the first class of College Steps participants to set foot on campus. College Steps NCC Program Coordinator Tim Pearson oversaw the ICP and worked closely with Michael to ensure his needs and goals were met. Michael’s plan included eating lunch with peer mentors who also provided live coaching of classroom behavior and help interacting with professors. Michael also met regularly with Tim to review homework assignments and discuss any problems that may have arisen over the week.

"I feel like, joining this program turned out to be a huge step toward success in education,” Michael explained. “I've been dealing with difficult challenges each semester. I've been receiving a lot of support from my family, my mentors, and my private tutors for helping me with really hard homework, studying, vocabulary skills, and also I've been doing community group skills with the students who are in this program.”

Ready for More

When Michael informed Tim last fall that he had applied to a four year-program at Adelphi University in Long Island, Tim began “pulling back” on some of the supports in the ICP.  

“We met less frequently and Michael began attending class without a mentor,” recalls Tim. “He even took an online course without any review of his work or deadlines.”

When asked why he chose Adelphi, Michael explained, “Because I personally want to go to school in New York after over 20 years of education and support here in Connecticut. I also want to study computer science as my major, and I want to play college baseball.”   

Mary was again hopeful but cautious. Although she knew Michael had developed many new skills and independence, she wasn’t sure if the outcome would be different or lead to additional disappointment.

Last month, Michael received news that his dream was coming true. He was accepted to Adelphi. In the fall, Michael will live on campus with a roommate and participate in the school’s “Bridges” program, which offers academic and social support to students with learning and social challenges.

“Joining this Bridges program is a next step for students who need support,” Michael said.”I shall say that this is a perfect fit for me in order to become a successful student. But when anything gets hard, I’ll try to take things step-by-step in order to make things easy. It depends how well you develop the skills you've learned or haven't learned yet."

“I have waited 20 years for Michael to give me that hug,” Mary told the College Steps team after Michael informed her of the good news. “You can imagine how emotional we have all been. I’m sad to say this will be our final semester with the College Steps program, but know it will be another great one as we get him prepared for this huge transition for the fall.”


College Steps Student Starts Bowling Club at Castleton

The following story was published in Castleton University's student publication, the Castleton Spartan, on December 13, 2017.  It was written by Brigitta Gough with photo by Brigitta Gough.

 Brandon Farrell seeks a strike at Castleton Bowling Club practice on Nov. 16. Photo by Brigitta Gough. 

Brandon Farrell seeks a strike at Castleton Bowling Club practice on Nov. 16. Photo by Brigitta Gough. 

In the fall of 2016, Castleton STEPS student Brandon Farrell started the Bowling Club. He has been bowling since he was four years old and it shows. On Nov. 16 at one of the club’s practices, he got five strikes in a row in one game with a final score of 180 points.

That isn’t his highest score ever, though.

“I always like to challenge myself to see if I can get a higher score than I used to, like my high score now is a 276,” Farrell said.

He started competing at the age of six or seven years old and once his attempt to make a bowling club in high school did not succeed, he made it his mission to start one in college.

Patricia Moore, coordinator of the STEPS program that provides colege experience for those with developmental disabilities, asked Farrell what he liked to do in his free time and what clubs he wanted to join at Castleton when he came to the school in the fall of 2016. His immediate reply was he wanted to have a bowling club.

STEPS mentors, who also worked in Residence Life, suggested they contact Director of Residence Life, Michael Robilotto to start the club because he was interested in bowling as well.

“My initial response was ‘yes let’s do it, why not try something new because we had interest from students last year so we went ahead and did it,” Robilotto said.

He said the challenge was finding people to do it.

In their first meeting they had fewer than 10 students, but now the club as expanded to over ten. Last year when the club began they just bowled for fun. Now they are competing in tournaments in the USBC Collegiate League.

This year alone they have already competed in two tournaments and plan to compete in at least one more before the end of the semester.

The members of the club are supportive of each other. They high five each other after each person goes and they cheer each other on. For Farrell, this has helped him.

“From my perspective, this has been a truly amazing experience. I’ve seen so much growth in Farrell; in his self-esteem, being able to independently communicate with people about rides, getting together and stuff,” Moore said.

The captain of the bowling club Anissa Martin was thrilled to help start the club with Farrell. Bowling is a sport she loves and has been playing since she was two. Bowling runs in both Farrell and Martin’s families for generations.

Martin worked closely with Farrell to start the club and still relies on his input for its future.

“We’re still very close. I go to him for advice on what he wants to see come out of the club because he did found it and I feel like his decisions and his opinions are very important to my decisions,” Martin said.

Martin says that their goal is to have fun and support each other.

“I consider this a family,” Martin said.

Farrell is happy he started the club. It allows him to keep improving along with the three other leagues he competes in.

“He’s very dedicated to bowling, it’s very important to him,” Robilotto said.

One of the greatest parts of the club for Farrell is that it has allowed him to get out of his comfort zone and make friends.

“That’s where I met all my new friends I made this year, most of them, the majority of the friends I’ve made this year are through bowling club,” Farrell said.

Moore agrees that this has been one of the greatest parts of the club, she said that he wouldn’t have been able to communicate the way he does now a year ago.

“Bowling club has given him that confidence to reach out,” Moore said.

Student Story: Campus Newspaper


Below, Grace Wohlberg shares her experience participating in the Voice, Norwalk Community College's student publication.  Her story, "Finance Class Helps Students," was featured in their December 11, 2017 publication and is pictured below.

My name is Grace Wohlberg and I have been attending the College Steps Program at Norwalk Community College (NCC) for two years. College Steps has allowed me to pursue my passion for learning via their mentor and social integration programs .  I really enjoy reading and writing and I have focused on these interests by taking English classes.  I particularly enjoyed my journalism and public speaking classes.  I have met so many new people with interesting stories of their own.  I joined the school newspaper, the Voice, and have made new friends. The Voice allows me to learn about the different events  going on around the campus and I enjoy interviewing people as well.  All in all, College Steps has really enhanced my college experience and has given me the confidence to face new situations. 

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Student Story: Art Classes and Off-Campus Outings


My name is Christopher Potter and I have been a student at College Steps-Norwalk Community College (NCC) for almost two years now. One of my goals for being a college student at College Steps is gaining experience in something new or that I haven't done before. I have had the chance to take several courses at NCC: English, Graphic Design I, 2D Design, Drawing I, Ceramics, and Digital Imaging: Adobe Photoshop. So far, my favorite course has been Ceramics-- I have been working with the same professor for two semesters now and have gotten to know her. I have been working on creating original plates, model houses, statues, and tiles. My favorite project so far was the plates project because it was interesting to transfer pictures on to the plates. 

 Christopher's favorite ceramics project: transferring images onto plates. 

Christopher's favorite ceramics project: transferring images onto plates. 


My favorite part about being a College Steps student is hanging out with friends and peer mentors. Every Wednesday I also take the bus into the community with a Peer Mentor. I enjoy being able to pick a place, plan out my trip, an then go with a peer mentor on the bus. I feel like I have gained independence from using the bus- by purchasing/using a ticket, planning my trips, learning bus routes. I have traveled to the following places on the bus; Matthews Park, local cafes, the Norwalk Public Library, and local museums/galleries.

 Christopher on a trip out in the community to the Norwalk Public Library. 

Christopher on a trip out in the community to the Norwalk Public Library. 


College Steps student and peer mentor at Southern Vermont College honored as youth leaders

 College Steps student 

College Steps student 

We are so proud of College Steps student, Alyvia Metcalfe and peer mentor Amber Archer for their leadership and hard work!

The following article appeared in the "Bennington Banner" on Sunday, December 10, 2017: 

Students Amber Archer and Alyvia Metcalfe will receive the Deborah Lisi-Baker Youth Leader Award from the Vermont Center for Independent Living, Southern Vermont College has announced. The awards will be presented by VCIL's executive director, Sarah Launderville, and Deborah Lisi-Baker at VCIL's Holiday Open House on Thursday, Dec. 14, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the First Baptist Church at 601 Main St.

The Deborah Lisi-Baker Youth Leader Award was created by VCIL's board of directors in 2006 in honor of the disability rights organization and emerging leaders who believe in the promise of disability rights and independent living movement. For much of her life, Lisi-Baker has advocated for human and civil rights of people with disabilities. She served as VCIL's executive director for many years and retired in 2009. 

Archer, of North Troy, is a sophomore majoring in radiologic sciences at SVC. She is a mentor in the College Steps program at SVC. In addition to Archer's volunteer efforts on campus and in the community, she learned American Sign Language and has worked at a local high school with deaf and hearing-impaired students. According to Darcy Oakes, program coordinator of College Steps at SVC, "Her work with young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on the College campus supports them in reaching their academic, vocational, social and independent living goals." 

Metcalfe, Bennington, is a second-year student at SVC through the College Steps program. Due to her influence and extensive social network, Meltcalfe has facilitated connections whereby her fellow College Steps classmates have become engaged in work experiences with local business owners. Metcalfe is well connected with United Counseling Services in Bennington. She is currently working in an internship at Bringing You Vermont and is employed at Price Chopper. Oakes, who nominated Meltcalfe, said, "Alyvia is happy to use her influence to forward not only her own goals, but also the goals of her friends and peers." 

College Steps partners with colleges and universities to support students of varying ability (e.g., autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities and learning disabilities) with their college pursuits. 

Behind the Label at NOVA Loudoun

Photo credit: Scott Lusk

On November 8th, A Place to Be came to NOVA Loudoun to present Behind The Label.  This powerful show reminded us to look inside people and ourselves, and realize that we are more than just labels.

A Place to Be, a performance-based music and drama therapy program in Virginia, describes their show Behind the Label:

"40 powerful minutes filled with monologues and music that explain what it’s like to live with various challenges including Autism, Down Syndrome, ADD, Anxiety, Cerebral Palsy, Depression, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Heart conditions, Dyslexia, and many other medical and life challenges. Written by the brave young people who struggle and triumph over their challenges every day, the goal of the project is to help teach people to see beyond diagnosis, beyond labels, and into human beings. "

College Steps student, Scott Lusk photographed the event. 

 Photo credit: Scott Lusk

Photo credit: Scott Lusk

 Photo credit: Scott Lusk

Photo credit: Scott Lusk

USBLN 2018 Annual Conference and Expo

The US Business Leadership Network is currently recruiting college students and recent graduates with disabilities for the 2018 Rising Leaders Initiatives!

Applications are now open for the 2018 Rising Leaders Mentoring Program and Rising Leadership AcademyDeadline to apply is December 18th, and the application can be found through this link:

 2018 Rising Leaders Mentoring Program and Rising Leadership Academy Application Form.

Mentorship has a big impact on students transitioning from school to work and employment. So far, 40% of Rising Leaders mentees from the 2017 Mentoring Program have gained employment since it began. They also had 17 job offers extended to their students by the end of the week at the 2017 Rising Leadership Academy. A flyer of the programs can be seen below.



Student story: College Student, Vocalist, Firefighter

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My name is Johnny Bairaktaris, and I have been a student in the College Steps Program at Norwalk Community College for almost one year. Currently, I am taking three courses at NCC; two of the courses are exercise classes, and the other course is a chorus class. Exercising is one of my passions; I work out every day and being in good physical shape is important to me. Additionally, I am passionate about singing. I have been singing since I was about 8 years old and chorus is something that I love taking. This past summer, I earned my Guard Card through NCC.

Since I was young, I have always wanted to be a firefighter; a job where I am helping people and saving lives is important to me. This past October, I was sworn into the Southport Volunteer Fire Department, as a active Volunteer Firefighter. Additionally, with the support of College Steps, I became a Probationary Firefighter for the Rowayton Volunteer Fire Department. I look forward to taking on more responsibilities for both departments. Every Thursday, at the Rowayton Fire Department, I participate in drills-- this is the highlight of my volunteer experience. 

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Open House at both the Annandale and Loudoun campuses

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College Steps is a non-profit organization that partners with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) at both the Annandale and Loudoun campuses to provide support for college/college-bound students living with social or learning challenges (e.g., learning disabilities, autism, developmental, or intellectual disabilities).

On Thursday, December 14th from 6:00-7:00 PM, we will offer an Open House at both the Annandale and Loudoun campuses. Please RSVP by December 8th as space is limited. 

Register for the Open House at NOVA - Annandale

Register for the Open House at NOVA - Loudoun

Please contact Brya Emery, Director of Admissions & Enrollment with any questions at or 802-578-0035.

We look forward to meeting you!

College Steps student at NOVA: Loudoun is a Rising Star

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Rose Pleskow is attacking life without boundaries.

"She has a competitive spirit, she wants to do better, she wants to go faster," said Denis Crean.

Born with intellectual disabilities and epilepsy, the Reston, Virginia, native competes internationally in open water swimming.

"My mom started swimming when she was pregnant with me, so I've been swimming all my life," said Rose Pleskow.

Pleskow trains with a group called WaveOne Swimming in the Potomac River at National Harbor, Maryland, with her mom right by her side.

"Just to look up and sometimes our faces meet," said Susan Pleskow. "It’s just pure heaven to me."

Rose is one terrific athlete, along with open water swimming, she’s quite the runner as well.

Back in 2011 at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, she won the bronze medal in the 1500 meters race, which is just a perfect example of Rose being able to do anything she puts her mind to.

"When I won the bronze medal, I almost cried because I worked so hard for it," said Rose.

Now, she's focused on starting college and getting a degree.

"Don’t let the people in the past tell you that you can’t do anything because you can do it," said Rose.

Rose is definitely becoming a leader everybody should follow.

Autistic Scholars Fellowship 2018

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The application for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's scholarship program for autistic college students, the Autistic Scholars Fellowship, has been released. You can find that application and more information about the scholarship here. ASAN would really appreciate if you could distribute the application to anyone you think would be a good candidate for the Fellowship, or who might know someone that would be. Thanks so much for your help, and feel free to let ASAN know if you have any questions or would like to talk more about the resources ASAN has for autistic adults and college students!

College For All Town Meeting at CSU

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Bernie Sanders will be holding a “College for All Town Meeting” at Castleton University on October 10 at 7 p.m. to discuss his legislation that would provide free tuition to all students who attend public colleges and universities.


The event will also be livestreamed on the Senator’s official Facebook page (


Students in Vermont and throughout the country will be participating in their own events to join the Senator in supporting “College for All” legislation.


If you are able to attend, please RSVP with Senator Sanders’ office, by completing this form.

Future Quest 2017

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I am happy to announce that registration is now open for Future Quest 2017! To register as a vendor please click on this link:


Also, please be sure to help spread the word to all parents, students and educators who would benefit from this fantastic event.


Future Quest is a FREE college and career conference held every two years for middle and high school students with disabilities, young adults with disabilities, their families, and professionals who work with them. It is organized by George Mason University and the Northern Virginia Transition Coalition. One of the largest events of its kind in Virginia, Future Quest features more than 40 workshops and 40 exhibits related to successful life after high school. 


Registration Flyer


Future Quest Main Information Site





Department of Labor Presentation hosted by College Steps at Southern Vermont College


College Steps at Southern Vermont College was very happy to host a jobs and careers workshop on campus. We are grateful to Melany from the Vermont Department of Labor for sharing her talent and expertise. To contact Melany for more information and resources:

Melany Letourneau

Job Center Specialist II, GCDF

 WIOA Adult/DLW Case Manager


Vermont Department of Labor

200 Veterans Memorial Drive

Suite 2

Bennington, VT 05201


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Transitioning to Adulthood


Report to Congress: Young Adults and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder Transitioning to Adulthood

A new Report to Congress compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finds there is a critical need for research and better coordinated services targeted to youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who are transitioning to adulthood. In anApril 2017 blog, we noted that about 50,000 youth with ASD turn 18 each year, with about 450,000 total aged 16-24 years old living in the United States today. A major finding of the report is that there are very few federal resources that specifically target youth and young adults with ASD transitioning to adulthood. A recent portfolio analysis from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) also found that issues related to transition age youth and adults comprised only 2 percent of all autism research funding, both federal and private, in 2015. To learn more about the need for more resources for those with Autism, view the full report.

College Steps at Lyndon State College is excited to welcome 6 new mentors to our program.


College Steps at Lyndon State College is excited to welcome 6 new mentors to our program.


College Steps offers students the support of our peer mentor network. Peer mentors are there to lend a hand and help College Steps students feel more comfortable as they navigate the college social network. Peer mentors are carefully selected, trained, and closely supervised by College Steps’ professional staff


“I think its great having a mentor... They have experience on campus so they can show you the ropes. I feel good interacting with other people instead of just being on my own. Without the support it would be tough. College Steps helped to boost my confidence a lot.” 


New Think College Website

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For the last 18 months, members of Think College staff, the ICI Marketing and Communications (MAC) team, and numerous others, have been working on this complete overhaul. The outcome is a cleaner look, a landing page that is more current and easier to navigate, and some new features, as well!


"I'm so proud of this new site," said Cate Weir, Think College's project director. "It looks fantastic, and it's so much easier for people to find what they're looking for."


Users will continue to find a wide range of publications and other resources, a large library of archived webinars, a comprehensive list of current college programs, as well as an improved TPSID only portal, our new Innovation Exchange, and information from our new Affinity Groups.


We appreciate your support and hope you are able to utilize this site in your work and also recommend it to others.