OT and PT students walked away from their Costa Rica service-learning trip with hands-on experience and a lifetime of memories.
Lily Bowditch ’23 has been passionate about working with individuals on the autism spectrum since she was in middle school. Her peer-to-peer volunteer work prior to studying at Saint Joseph’s University — and her professional and academic experiences while at SJU — have helped shape her career goal of making the nation’s workforce more neurodiverse.
The human resources and people management major knew she wanted to deepen her experience with the neurodiverse population during her college years. After enrolling at Saint Joseph’s, she quickly became involved with the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support by joining the SCHOLARS (Students Committed to Helping Others Learn about Autism Research and Support) program. Undergraduate students in this program serve as part-time student employees, where they provide recreational programs, skills training and adult day programs to help Kinney clients succeed in their day-to-day lives.
Bowditch recalls hearing about the managing neurodiversity in the workplace minor in a course with Eric Patton, PhD, associate professor of management, during her first semester at SJU. At this time, the minor was not launched yet, but it was a concept a few faculty and staff members had developed to further the University’s and Kinney’s work on building a more neurodiverse workforce.
“I was immediately interested in adding this minor to my academic portfolio because it was a perfect combination of my interests,” says Bowditch.
Nearly two years later, the interdisciplinary minor launched and Bowditch was the first undergraduate student to declare it. The minor combines coursework in the fields of management, psychology and autism studies with a capstone workplace internship project. It aims to prepare Saint Joseph’s graduates to be leaders in the fields of human resources and management when it comes to integrating, supporting and benefiting from neurodiverse employees.
"Ever since her first semester at SJU when I had her in my management course, Lily had told me about her interest in neurodiversity. I was thrilled and not at all surprised when she became the first student to join the minor, which I worked on in collaboration with the Kinney Center and colleagues from the College of Arts & Science and the School of Education and Human Development,” says Patton.
These academic and professional experiences helped lead her to her current internship at Jefferson’s Center for Autism and Neurodiversity. In this role, she works alongside Center Director Wendy Ross, MD, and other clinical staff.
“Internship experience was so important to me because it’s critical to put ideas into practice,” says Bowditch.
At her internship, Bowditch has worked on a variety of projects, all focused on enhancing patient care and helping ensure their approach keeps neurodiversity top of mind when it comes to decision making.
“Lily has contributed to our work on making cancer care more autism-friendly, helping with a comprehensive review of the literature on medical care and cancer care for autistic individuals,” says Alexander Fossi, research coordinator for the Jefferson's Center. “Lily’s work will help us to present this urgent issue to a variety of clinical and stakeholder audiences, identify ways that cancer care can be made more accessible for autistic patients and discuss areas where future research is needed to better support this population.”
Back on campus, Bowditch furthered her dedication to preparing management professionals and employers on this topic as she served as a host and moderator for SJU’s Unlimited Learning Expert Webinar Series on neurodiversity at work, which featured Patton and Jane North from Philadelphia Insurance. As she prepares to graduate in May, Bowditch is committed to taking the culmination of her experiences to be an advocate and resource for neurodiverse employees.
“She continues to make us proud and I cannot think of a better student ambassador for our efforts around neurodiversity in the workplace," says Patton.