Allye Brown didn’t think she’d end up in Clarksville.
In 2016, the Nashville State Community College student looked to earn her bachelor’s degree, and she found a university in another part of Tennessee with a program that assisted students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
“At first we toured a school that had a program like that, but then we found out about [full spectrum learning] in Clarksville at Austin Peay,” she said. “We toured the school, and once we learned everything we needed to do, we were like, ‘Yes, I think Clarksville will work good.’”
Three years later, Brown is a senior majoring in communications with a creative writing minor, and she credits the FSL, which is housed within the university’s Eriksson College of Education, with helping her throughout her academic career.
“I think it’s been able to help me with my college experience,” she said. “I feel like if I didn’t have any help from FSL, I think I would be freaking out, getting overwhelmed with school work. Just taking some time to go in there and do school work without any distractions, it helps.”
Austin Peay developed the FSL program in 2014 to help students on the autism spectrum succeed in college. The program achieves that mission through individual peer tutoring, peer mentoring to help with socialization and faculty mentoring to help with career development.
“What we do is we provide a structure to make sure the student will be successful here,” said Emmanuel Mejeun, FSL director. “Freedom in college is an illusion. You still have to have structured time to do what you need to do.”
That’s particularly important for the students the FSL serves. While in high school, individuals diagnosed with autism follow an individualized education plan to help them succeed. At the college level, no such plan exists. FSL provides that structure through success coaching classes and weekly one-on-one meetings with Mejeun.
“They have those required study hours, and you can just come into the room and work on the school work,” Brown said. “I have an online communication theory class, so Emmanuel has me going in there for an hour to work on comm theory. I’ll go there early to make up for a study hour, and then I’ll go to comm theory.”
The FSL, located on the first floor of the Claxton Building, is a popular place with its study rooms, a computer lab and a lounge where students like to hang out.
“It’s a place for them to feel comfortable,” Mejeun said. “They come here to stay focused.”
This year, more students are using the space because the program has doubled in size, from 14 students in 2018-2019 to 28 students this fall. That growth is the result of a concerted effort by Mejeun and his colleagues from the college of education and the office of disability services to promote FSL across the state. These advocates believe Austin Peay’s program is different than others in Tennessee, and they want more students to benefit from what FSL has to offer.
“There are alternative programs that will give participants a certificate so they can help get them skills to get work,” he said. “There are not a lot of programs that help them get a college degree. And our faculty mentors guide them toward what they need to do to stand out. The whole goal is to make them more marketable so when they leave here they can have a better chance of getting a job.”
The state’s vocational rehabilitation office also helps FSL participants find jobs when they graduate. The program does come with a cost, but a vocational rehabilitation grant allows students who qualify to participate for free. Currently, all FSL students have qualified for the grant, allowing them to pursue their dreams.
“I’m expected to graduate in the summer,” Brown said. “I want to be a writer, a freelance writer or something like that.”
Information on the program, such as admission requirements, services and resources, is available online at apsu.edu/full-spectrum-learning.