Meredith Vicente, Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ), senior director of accessibility and student support, steers students down the right path. She has been with the college for nearly 25 years and has dedicated her life to assisting students who are faced with learning barriers.
“What my goal is with every student that comes in, is to not let them be limited by their condition,” she said. “Just figure out where your strengths are and let other people know what you need and you’re going to be able to succeed in life.”
Vicente has plenty of experience working with students to provide them with the best learning opportunities. She started as a special education teacher in Franklin Township schools. Then, after receiving her master’s degree in Student Personnel Services from Rowan University, Vicente became a guidance counselor.
In 2001, she was hired as an adjunct professor for developmental reading on the Cumberland campus. Subsequently, she was promoted to assistant director of Project Assist, which according to Vicente, was a grant program that helped special needs students receive accommodations to enhance their learning experience.
“We had a lot of professional workshops for faculty and staff so that they knew how to work with students who learned a little bit differently,” she said. “It also provided different assistive technologies to help the students learn better.”
The grant ended in 2010.
“We couldn’t go backwards,” Vicente said. “We keep going above and beyond to try to take students from their first step to graduation. We’re really proactive in our outreach to them.”
Going above and beyond, according to Vicente, consists of meeting incoming students who self-identify as having learning barriers, helping them set up their classes, and contacting them through the semester to make sure they are staying on the path.
Another aspect of Vicente’s duties is to get those students and professors on the same page. “I send accommodation letters which basically tell the professor that these students have a condition that may cause them barriers and they tell them what accommodations they’re eligible for.”
Such accommodations include having extra time to work on assignments, testing out of the class, tutoring, and using the Kurzweil, an assistive learning technology that helps students with conditions that affect their reading such as dyslexia, low vision, or ADHD, Vicente said.
“It basically takes any text and then reads it out loud,” she explained. “It can also really help students who have English as a second language. I have had students who come forward and say, ‘I don’t really have a disability, but I do have a language barrier.’ Kurzweil has really helped some of the ESL students.”
Vicente acknowledged a few other factors that can affect student learning. “I’m finding a huge uptick in students who are coming forward and identifying that they have chronic health and mental health conditions. There are also many students diagnosed with autism,” she noted.
“A lot of students have periods of time when they are just not able to function,” said Vincente. “They actually lose time during the week because of their health conditions, or they’re depressed. Or, they’re having some type of flare up with their mental health. So, we’ve been giving students accommodations like flexibility with their attendance.
“It’s not just a transaction, we’re building relationships with the students,” she said. “I really am a strong believer in being student-centered. They know I’m going to help them without judging them. My job is really about making sure they have access to [assistance] and if that means going above and beyond [we will] find a way for them to be successful.
“My favorite part about working at the college is helping students to find their path to success,” she said. “But I think the part that’s more important to me is when I know that they’ve learned how to become strong self-advocates. That they’ve learned what tools they need to be successful.”
For more information about RCSJ’s disabilities or special needs support services, visit RCSJ.edu/SpecialServices.