SJU Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support Graduates Its Largest Class of SCHOLARS

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PHILADELPHIA (May 4, 2017) — “In my experience at the Kinney Center,” Allison Samson ’17, an elementary education major from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, says, “I have learned that no two children or adults with a disability are alike.”

Samson is one of 47 undergraduate SCHOLARS (Students Committed to Helping Others Learn about Autism Research and Support) from the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support who will graduate this May. This group is the largest class of SCHOLARS since the Kinney Center’s founding in 2009.

“Many of these students have been with us since they were first year students,” Ryan Hammond, ’13 (MBA), executive director of the Kinney Center, says. “They will have amassed 2,000 hours of training and one-on-one interactions with individuals with autism by the time they graduate.”

Kinney SCHOLARS — who often choose to major in autism studies, psychology, or elementary and special education — assist with the center’s youth, adult and transitional programs for individuals with autism. This practical experience, coupled with their degrees, gives SCHOLARS a competitive edge over other job and graduate school applicants. Kinney SCHOLARS, who are Crisis Prevention Intervention certified, graduate with knowledge of current industry standards and applied behavior analysis, criminal and medical clearances, and CPR and first aid training.

“All of this experience, coupled with the training and hands-on work, make our SCHOLARS the ideal candidates for schools and service providers in the autism field,” Hammond says.

Many SCHOLARS in the Class of 2017 have already leveraged their time at the Kinney Center to find full-time positions. Most, like Katrina Nicolaides ’17, an elementary education major from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, have accepted employment in schools, special education programs or service agencies. Nicolaides will be working as an instructional assistant at A Step Up Academy, a special education school in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

“I feel that, at this point in life, I could not have more experience with this field than I do right now,” Nicolaides says. “Working at the Kinney Center has not only taught me about the field of autism, but also a lot about myself. I have learned the importance of patience and perseverance through the various learners I have worked with.”

Other SCHOLARS will go on to graduate programs in special education, and some will combine graduate school with practical work experience. Samson is one of these SCHOLARS. Samson has accepted a teacher-scholar position with Melmark, a special education and service center in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. She will simultaneously extend her education at SJU by one year in order to complete a master’s degree in special education.

“The Kinney Center provided me with training that has allowed me to approach my learners in a whole different manner than I would have without it,” Samson says. “When I graduate with my master’s degree in 2018, I hope to be teaching in a classroom with children I can make an impact on every day, whether they have a disability or not.”

Though the training and experience Samson gained as a SCHOLAR has laid the foundation for her future career in special education, she will also carry the personal growth she achieved at the Kinney Center into the next stage of her education and career, as well.

“Most of all,” Samson says, “the Kinney Center has provided me with the confidence I needed to pursue my passion.”

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Patricia Allen, Director of Communications,, 610-660-3240


Founded in 1851 in the Jesuit tradition of academic excellence, Saint Joseph’s University is a top-ranked Catholic University that provides a rigorous, student-centered education. With a total enrollment of 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students, SJU offers a wide array of academic programs designed so that each graduate enters the world with a competitive resume and global perspective. This is achieved through intense academic study led by thought-leading faculty scholars, a comprehensive campus experience and robust study abroad, service-learning, internship and co-op programs. Upon graduation, nearly 100 percent of students are employed, pursuing advanced degrees or volunteering in prestigious service programs. A member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, SJU offers 20 Division I intercollegiate men’s and women’s sports. SJU alumni — over 68,000 strong — provide a powerful network that spans the globe.

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