Nils Skudra writes about working with Dr. Omar Ali, the Dean of the Lloyd International Honors College. Sacred Space Guest Blogger Nils Skudra graduated with a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences and a Master of Arts degree in History. Nils has shared that his long-term career goal is to work as a full-time professional historian or librarian. We hope you enjoy Nils' article on the important of an academic advisor.
During the early months of my graduate studies at UNC-Greensboro, I was eager to create a group for students on the autism spectrum since I had left my various autism support networks behind in the Bay Area in moving to North Carolina. Given that there were virtually no autism groups on campus, I considered it essential to start one so that I would have a sense of community among fellow students who shared my diagnosis. I was aided in this endeavor by Dr. Omar Ali, the Dean of the Lloyd International Honors College, who was intrigued by the idea of forming a support group for students on the spectrum.
Together, we co-founded Spectrum at UNCG, which was dedicated to promoting autism awareness and fostering an inclusive space for students with autism. Over the next five years of my enrollment at UNCG, Dr. Ali played an influential role in working with me, both as an academic advisor for the group and as a professional supervisor.
In conducting the operations of Spectrum at UNCG, Dr. Ali and I facilitated group meetings and discussion panels in which students were encouraged to share their experiences of being on the spectrum and the strengths and challenges that came with their diagnosis. Our discussion topics included the representation of autism in films and television shows, such as The Good Doctor, the question of masking versus disclosing one’s diagnosis, and the growing demand for autistic employees in the workplace.
Throughout these discussions, each person shared intriguing insights about their experiences, and Dr. Ali provided an enlightening perspective of his own about the ways in which autistic individuals struggle with the challenges of being brutally honest in professional environments that might require them to be more discreet about certain information.
In addition, Dr. Ali helped to arrange social outings for the group at local bakeries as part of fostering a sense of community, and these proved very instrumental in persuading members to visit local venues that they might not otherwise have frequented.
Working with Dr. Ali in running the Spectrum group not only benefited me by creating an autism support network on campus, but it also opened opportunities for me to pursue my professional development under his supervision. These included working as a research assistant for the Lloyd International Honors College, in which I participated in staff meetings, interviewed faculty and staff members, and wrote articles and press releases for the Honors College newsletter.
In addition, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ali provided me with an assignment for a manuscript project on the history of Greensboro, which could be done fully remotely. Through this work, I acquired valuable administrative experience, enhanced my research, writing, and analytical skills, and had the opportunity to gain further publishing experience. These skills have proven highly beneficial as I have continued to pursue my career goals, which Dr. Ali has remained a strong supporter of by serving as a professional reference.
In summation, I feel that my experience with Dr. Ali has profoundly illustrated the importance that an academic advisor can have in the career paths of individuals on the autism spectrum. In working together with him to create and manage Spectrum at UNCG, I opened the door for opportunities to gain further professional experience that made use of my skills in research, analysis, writing, and information organization, which Dr. Ali actively helped to cultivate by giving me projects that resonated with my interests.
Through this experience, I gained a valuable professional reference and supportive friend who has consistently backed me in my endeavors. Considering this, I strongly believe that by forming a close rapport with their academic advisors, young autistic adults can achieve significant success in their professional pursuits.
Students can accomplish this at their college or university by making connections with their academic advisors and inquiring whether they would be interested in helping them to form a student organization for individuals on the spectrum. When targeting students who might be unsure about joining a group, they can emphasize its value as a source of community in which autistic individuals can feel welcome and included and where they will have the opportunity to develop their abilities for self-advocacy and thus build their social confidence.