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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

Our Access is ACES

At the University of Dayton there is a deeply rooted commitment to increasing access to a holistic, Catholic education while helping all students succeed.

It’s a commitment inspired by UD’s Marianist values and evident in the donor-funded work of the Office of Learning Resources. OLR’s primary mission is to ensure that students with disabilities are able to participate freely and actively in all areas of university life. It provides tutoring and writing support, supplemental instruction and study skills classes. In fact, UD provides more supplemental instruction courses than any other college in the nation. That resonated with Steve Tomassi ’74.

“As she grew up, our youngest daughter needed additional assistance at school, and we experienced significant variability in the quality of teaching and support structures for students like her. As a result, we began to look for ways to support current students with learning disabilities,” said Tomassi.

First-year students Katie Montgomery and Clarissa Breard, both on the autism spectrum, are directly benefitting from the resources and connections offered through the OLR’s new Academic Coaching and Extended Services program, which received funding from Steve and Sue Tomassi.

ACES, which currently serves 20-25 neurodiverse students, provides weekly check-ins with an academic coach to build college competence. 

“Students with ADHD, autism and other cognitive disorders, can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of college services,” said John Harrelson, director for the Office of Learning Resources. “It’s more difficult for them to navigate those processes, especially when they are not black and white.” 

Montgomery, an English major who is heavily involved in campus life, is receiving specific accommodations for the first time in her life. Her weekly one-on-one check-ins with her ACES coordinator have become a consistent part of her routine — helping her organize her week and providing accountability for scheduling tests or asking for additional help in classes when needed. 

“The fact that UD has a program like ACES really validates a population that is overlooked in many academic circles. It’s been a massive help to me,” said Montgomery.

Equally important, the ACES program offers opportunities, like weekly dinners, that encourage and facilitate social interactions. For Breard, a psychology major who is preparing for a career working with autistic children, the built-in community of peers who understand what it’s like to be neurodiverse has been one of the greatest benefits of ACES.  

“I’m not going through college alone. I always have this group of people, and it’s a very safe place,” said Breard.

“I’m not going through college alone. I always have this group of people, and it’s a very safe place,” said Breard. Montgomery agrees. “It’s a built-in community where we don’t have to hide those traits that make us ‘us.’”

ACES is just one of the programs OLR provides. Others include disability services like sign language interpreters and captioning services. Specifically, the G. Michael Miller ’96 Fund provides donor support for interpreters and captioning — services that can be very costly. 

According to Harrelson, the OLR currently serves 10% of UD’s student population. 

“The number of students seeking accommodations for some type of disability continues to grow. We are so grateful to donors for giving us the means to fund access to accommodations that level the playing field and help these students thrive at UD,” said Harrelson.

The Tomassi’s gift is making an impact on current Flyers. It’s increasing awareness of students with disabilities while supporting the accommodations that help to ensure all students succeed.

“It’s amazing that the University is considerate of the needs of those with disabilities, and that people care enough to provide funding for services and programs to support us. It truly encapsulates the Marianist charism of inclusivity,” said Breard.

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