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Ohio State’s Nisonger Center supports students with autism

Funding from JPMorgan Chase aids workforce development

Neurodivergent students at The Ohio State University need look no further than the Nisonger Center for support on campus. The center’s Autism College Experience program — commonly known as Ace! — helps students with autism confidently navigate college life.

Nisonger and Ace! are central reasons many students select Ohio State. Economics student Hunter Wagner is among them, and the support he has received has been invaluable.

“My mom did a bunch of research on different autism programs at colleges,” he said. “I was touring Ohio State, and Nisonger made me feel so comfortable and welcome. I’ve been a part of Ace! ever since.”

Nisonger’s staff helps Wagner stay on track academically and mentally with regular check-ins. They also helped him get situated with Ohio State’s Student Life Disabilities Services team.

As Wagner progressed through his education, Nisonger helped him secure an internship with JPMorgan Chase. Job interviews can be challenging for candidates with autism, Wagner said, because they may seem socially awkward. Wagner said eye contact is hard for him, which might seem strange to some job interviewers.

“That wasn’t an issue with JPMorgan Chase,” Wagner said. “I’m part of their Autism@Work program, so the people who interviewed me knew what to expect because they knew I was on the spectrum. Ever since I started working there, it’s been a very accepting and kind community. I’m so glad to have this opportunity.”

Advancement and empowerment

Internships aren’t the only benefit JPMorgan Chase has offered Ohio State students.

The company recently invested $198,000 in hardship funding for 20 students for the upcoming autumn and spring semesters. This investment brings the company’s total hardship funding to $276,000, which has paid for 60 semesters worth of programming for students with autism and intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Students who benefit are participants in Ace! and another of Nisonger’s social programs, Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings, which is known commonly as TOPS.

JPMorgan Chase values neurodivergent employees because they offer out-of-the-box thinking, said Bryan Gill, head of the company’s Office of Disability Inclusion and Global Neurodiversity.

“As employees, they not only reflect the diverse customers, clients and communities we serve, but they also leverage some unique talents, such as an ability to hyperfocus and process information in new ways,” Gill said. “That’s a true competitive advantage to companies like ours.”

Corrine Burger, the company’s Columbus location leader, agreed. She said JPMorgan Chase has been a dedicated advocate for advancing and empowering people with disabilities.

“Whether it is through supporting entrepreneurs with disabilities, breaking down barriers and stigmas in the workplace or working with partners like Ohio State’s Nisonger Center,” Burger said, “JPMorgan Chase is committed to creating opportunities for all people so they can draw on their diverse talents, grow their skills and advance in their careers.”

Melissa Shivers, senior vice president for the Office of Student Life at Ohio State, said the Nisonger Center’s programs are deeply important.

“Ohio State is a world-class model of diverse, inclusive academic excellence,” Shivers said. “Programs of the Nisonger Center, such as Ace! and TOPS, provide an array of services and supports for neurodivergent students navigating the college experience. Together we offer critical opportunities for all students — neurodivergent and neurotypical — for an outstanding educational experience and future career aspirations.”

Jessie Green, Nisonger program manager, said unemployment and underemployment rates are staggeringly higher for people with disabilities. Programs like these can challenge public opinion and offer opportunities otherwise unavailable.

“Thanks to JPMorgan Chase summer internships,” Green said, “students in our social programs gain real-world experience, professional network building and career exploration opportunities that can develop into permanent, competitive employment while receiving parallel support from Nisonger. This is a win for JPMorgan Chase and a win for our students.”

Student voices

The partnership has provided opportunities for many Ohio State students. Lizzie Rondot, another participant in Ace! and Autism@Work, echoed Wagner’s sentiments.

“I always let people know upfront that I’m autistic, and that I don’t always get social nuances,” said Rondot, who studies electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State. “Everyone at JPMorgan Chase has been really understanding and receptive to me when I tell them what to expect. They’re all so accommodating, and that helps me learn.”

Another participant, Brandon Simpson, has received Nisonger support for several years — long before becoming a student at Ohio State. He earned his associate degree from Columbus State Community College and is starting his bachelor’s degree at the Fisher College of Business this fall. Like Wagner and Rondot, he is also an intern with JPMorgan Chase.

“One thing I appreciate is JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to always helping autistic individuals be able to find employment,” Simpson said. “As we know, a lot of people on the spectrum are disproportionately unemployed, so being part of a program like this is really great.”

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