Student Spotlight: Joseph Mitchell

Cumulatively, the five new students in the Neill-Wint Center this fall had a grade point average of 3.89
Cumulatively, the five new students in the Neill-Wint Center this fall had a grade point average of 3.89

The fall 2020 semester has been unlike any other for college students all over the country. At the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma it has been no different, but the incoming freshmen in the Neill-Wint Center for Neurodiversity, the institution’s support program for students on the autism spectrum, have proven themselves up to the challenge of mastering not only USAO’s rigorous and distinctive curriculum, but doing so during a pandemic.

Cumulatively, the five new students in the program this fall had a grade point average of 3.89. History major Joseph Mitchell of Bethel achieved something any college student would be envious of, a perfect 4.0, and he recently reflected on what it has meant to start his college career during such a tumultuous year.

“USAO is pretty close to home, so it was easy to drive over and see what it was like,” said Mitchell. “I was pretty charmed by the campus, and with all of the support services for people with learning disabilities. After visiting a few other places, I just thought it was the school for me.”

The Neill-Wint Center assists students with autism spectrum disorder in the transition to college life through a collaborative model that promotes the development of self-advocacy and independent living skills to encourage strong academic and social progress. Varying levels of academic, social and residential support aid students in meeting their personal and professional goals.

In addition to the Neill-Wint Center’s services, Mitchell credits USAO’s Student Success Center with helping him adjust to the more flexible nature of college coursework.

“I feel like it has allowed for me to accomplish a lot more than I would have been able to on my own. I found it difficult jumping from high school, where everything was pretty regimented, into an environment where you have to work on the material more at your own leisure. At first it was difficult but then I figured out a good regimen for myself,” said Mitchell. “And since USAO is a relatively small university I have feel like a person and not just another face in the crowd.”

Despite USAO’s close-knit community, social distancing restrictions have made it more difficult to get the most out this aspect of the college experience. The more compressed nature of this semester also added to the pressures facing new students.

“The hardest part of this semester was that it felt isolating because of COVID and whatnot, since I couldn’t go out and meet new people,” said Mitchell. “I also found it kind of difficult because we had to do a lot more cramming, since there was no fall break where you would have time to catch up or work ahead or just have that space if you needed it.”

While social interactions were much more limited in 2020, Mitchell still found ways to get out and about, whether it was a movie night at the Lawson Clubhouse or a lunch at the Baptist Campus Ministries, or just a small get together with friends.

“I had a really good roommate and fortunately enough we had all the same classes, so we could bounce ideas off each other and figure out our own pace together,” he said. “Dealing with the lack of social interaction, I just took on any chance I had to interact with people either in the school or elsewhere so I wouldn’t get cabin fever.”

With the majority of classes being taught online this fall, new students faced another hurdle compared to a more normal semester. But Mitchell found that the digital format had some real benefits, as well as some clear drawbacks.

“One of the good things so far is that we have generally had all of our lectures at the beginning of the week, so we have had a lot more flexibility to do things on our own time—within reason,” said Mitchell. “But then, we don’t get as much class time with our professors, so they can’t really gauge the class and get a sense of how to more personally reach out to people. I’ve also had less chances to interact with the people in my classes, so I’ve had to do a lot more on my own. Not being able to bounce ideas off of other people has made it a bit more difficult to learn the material and really get it deep into the grey matter of the brain.”

Like everyone else at USAO, Mitchell just hopes that things will start getting back to normal next semester. The institution has managed the COVID-19 pandemic well, thanks to the diligent efforts of every faculty, staff and student who calls the campus home. While the new freshmen in the Neill-Wint Center have done extraordinarily well despite this semester’s hurdles, we cannot wait to see what they will do in the future! Mitchell has some key advice for any and all students going forward.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to professors or to tutors when you need it, they can only help,” he said. “And definitely don’t procrastinate, because eventually you’ll get to the point where you are so stressed you don’t make the right choices and don’t get the material down. I feel like everyone should have a little bit of stress, just so they are motivated to get the work done, but you have to be able to manage it right.”

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