Student with autism climbs to help others

Mr. Shumway is a kindred spirit!

OCT 23, 2015

As a young man growing up with autism, Troy Shumway never dreamed he’d have the opportunity to go to college like his older siblings.

But the 20-year-old Carmel Valley man is now halfway through an adapted college program in Utah and he’s gone to the ends of the earth to make that same dream come true for another student next year.

This past June, Troy climbed Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro as part of a yearlong fundraising campaign to cover a future student’s tuition at Aggies Elevated. The two-year certificate program at Utah State University was launched in 2014 for students with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual and physical disabilities.

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On Saturday morning, Troy will talk about his climb and his college experience at a free open house event at the Del Mar Hilton Hotel. He said he loves attending college and he’s proud of his Kilimanjaro climb.

“This program has really helped me learn and grow from my comfort zone and my shell,” he said. “I think it’s important for kids to go to college and have the same experience that I had.”

Troy is the fifth of six children born to Dr. Robert and Kathy Shumway of Carmel Valley. Kathy said that when Troy was diagnosed with autism at age 3, he was nonverbal. He has since become very talkative, but his academic level stalled around fifth or sixth grade and he has behavioral issues, tics, rocks back and forth and has difficulty making eye contact.

While Troy was attending Torrey Pines High, Kathy said she and her husband looked for programs that could offer him a structured college experience. There aren’t many, and some of them are very expensive. Then they discovered Aggies Elevated, a small pilot project modeled after the Pathway program at UCLA.

Special-needs students live in dorms, take classes, work internships and interact with other students on the Utah State campus, while learning life, health, career and social skills, money management and self-reliance. The small program has just 11 students this year but will expand next year thanks to a federal grant.

Sarah Bodily, program director for Aggies Elevated, said students gradually learn to cope with real-world challenges like homework, research papers and time management, which prepares them for a productive and independent life.

“They walk around campus with confidence after being here for over a year. It’s their campus and they are integrated among it. They’ve joined clubs and participated in events all through the community,” Bodily said.

Troy said college is both stressful and fun and his favorite part is his internship job at the campus health and fitness center. He hopes one day to live on his own and pursue his dream of writing screenplays and working in the film industry.

The idea for the tuition campaign was dreamed up last winter by Troy’s father, Robert, a triathlete and mountain climber. The motto for Aggies Elevated is “climb higher,” so they decided to turn a planned family vacation in Africa into a mountain-climbing fundraiser.

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