Jacob was excited when he noticed the Kalamazoo College students coming into the Hicks game room. One girl walked towards him and another girl followed. He asked them if they could be his partners, and they said yes. He took one of the girls’ hands and walked around telling everyone that he already had two partners.
Like the other students in the Young Adult Program, Jacob is on the autism spectrum. Every Tuesday morning, YAP students aged 18-26 come to K for two hours to spend time with K students. Alexis Fiebernitz K‘16 coordinates the visits.
“We go to the gym, swimming, and their favorite activity is actually going to the cafeteria,” Fiebernitz said. “We provide a safe environment for them to be themselves and for us to make a connection with them.”
According to Fiebernitz, her favorite memory is from her sophomore year when she met a student named Michael.
“He liked when the [Civic Engagement Scholar] that year would tickle [him],” Fiebernitz said. “He would say tickle and she would laugh and once she left, he passed that on to me. He remembered that I was there for that first occurrence.”
Fiebernitz heard about the program through Bruce Mills’ First Year Seminar entitled Crossing Borders. She was encouraged to apply to be a Civic Engagement Scholar because she was committed to the program, and hadn’t gone on study abroad like the other seniors, Fiebernitz said.
“The Civic Engagement Scholar is the key person who really takes charge of it,” Mills said. “I try to help and offer some feedback but Alexis is the key person organizing it.”
Besides being a professor and coordinator for YAP, Mills is a parent of a child on the spectrum. This is his son Jacob’s fifth year of YAP.
“He doesn’t volunteer any conversation about anything that happens during his day,” Mills said. “We have to ask him about it, and he doesn’t always like to have direct questions asked of him so I might say something like ‘Today was the Kalamazoo College day, huh, Jacob?’ Whenever we go out to West Campus, they always report that people are very excited about K College days.”
Though Jacob doesn’t share his experiences with Mills, Mills shares Jacob’s experiences with his seminar.
“It’s tremendously meaningful to me to see my son develop relationships with people on campus,” Mills said. “Being able to talk about Jacob and my experience with Jacob helps create the sense that you want to get to know him as a person who is fun and interesting though on the spectrum, and that you’re trying to develop some reciprocal relationship, not doing something for him. That’s what I hope comes out of my talking about him.”