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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Marquette University support program for students with autism celebrates first graduate

three people standing out
Courtesy Emily Raclaw
On Your Marq's first graduate, Matt Waterman (center) is pictured with On Your Marq Director Emily Raclaw (left) and coach Emma Gaffney.

A Marquette University support program for students with autism celebrated its first graduate this month.

On Your Marq was launched three years ago to help students on the autism spectrum navigate college, with social and academic coaching.

The program, which costs $3,000 per semester, aims to combat the higher college dropout and unemployment rates people with autism face.

Matt Waterman joined On Your Marq as a sophomore. He says his freshman year at Marquette was challenging academically and socially.

"I struggled just kind of interpersonally," he says. "Obviously, just being on the spectrum, it makes kind of being able to collaborate effectively and kind of make friends with my classmates a lot more difficult."

Waterman was diagnosed with autism the summer after his freshman year.

"I had always been pretty shy, and for the longest time I kind of just attributed it to social anxiety," he says.

After the diagnosis, Waterman's parents heard about On Your Marq, and he joined the brand new program his sophomore year in fall of 2019.

The program's director, Emily Raclaw, says a major emphasis of the program is helping students stay organized and plan ahead.

A group photo of On Your Marq students and coaches.
Courtesy Emily Raclaw
A group photo of On Your Marq students and coaches.

"They meet weekly with a graduate-level coach, and they help them ... figure out what needs to get done when," she says.

On Your Marq students also have a peer mentor to help with the social side of college. Raclaw says during the pandemic, the program added mental health support for the students.

Waterman says the grad coach and peer mentor were most helpful for him.

"I'm someone that is really productive when I have a concrete schedule I can follow on a daily and weekly basis," he says. "I was able to use a schedule managing tool where I was able to put in the class times I would have every day and then I would input my assignments every day. ... Just being able to check in with someone every week and making sure I'm taking care of everything I need to was really helpful to me."

Raclaw also encourages On Your Marq students to get job experience to improve their prospects after graduating.

"I'm really pushing each student to have at least one internship before they graduate because the employment rate for people on the spectrum is so low," she says. "And Matt [Waterman] is not one of those statistics."

Waterman, who studied supply chain management, says he was hired full-time at C.H. Robinson in Minnesota, his home state.

On Your Marq is growing as a program, from about 15 students this year to 30 in the upcoming school year. Raclaw says in the three years since the program's launch, more colleges have started support programs for students with autism.

"I'm very happy to see more popping up," Raclaw says. "As much as I love my program and I'm very proud of what we've built, I don't want students to feel like they have to choose whatever school because that's where the support is. I want the same dignity that any neurotypical student would have to choose whatever college they want."

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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