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.