CECH School of Information Technology Teams with Special Education for Cutting-Edge Camp

Software developer/educator introduces autistic students to personal, college-scheduling app.

Growing up as the youngest of five and close to a cousin with Autism drew Information Technology (IT) Research Associate Rebekah Michael to teaching a section of the recent College Success Camp for high-school juniors and seniors with High-Functioning Autism.

“I had to be into everything to get along with all of my siblings, so I’m pretty adaptable,” she says. She tapped that skill in creating a daily web-and-mobile-app-development session for the 11 teens from around the region. She also designed My Life Scheduler, which allows college students to organize their projects and classes.

Student studying at a computer

Patrick gets a jump on college life during College Success Camp

“In transitioning to college from a very structured high-school experience,” Michael explains, “these students won’t have someone there to schedule for them or fill out their planner. It’s easy to fail.”

She spent two weeks building the app, which could never have happened during a week’s camp, leaving plenty of customization for students. She sought input from the special-education department in setting up two days of “tech debt. I told students, that on those days, we were learning and not producing. It’s a struggle, especially, for this group, because they want to know where it leads.”

They exceeded her expectations in learning two skill sets: web-and-mobile apps and HTML (HyperText Markup Language); CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript, a web programming language. PhoneGap makes the app native to students’ personal devices, according to Michael. “I wanted them to have an app they could actually load and not just be a class exercise.” Those without devices were loaned iPads during the camp.

As a result, students can enter a project into their new app, which will ask them to estimate research and writing hours, when they want a first draft and a final deadline, then send reminders.

Student building a website

Savannah gets jazzed over building a webpage around her favorite bands

Patrick, an incoming freshman at Bowling Green State University, looks forward to that app, however glitches delayed implementation. He attended the camp “to prepare for college and the social aspects have been helpful.”

Savannah “Shadow,” an incoming freshman at Antioch College, grew very excited creating a new website of her favorite bands in Michael’s class. She plans to major in performing-arts education and says the week “has given me a lot of insight about going to college, what it’s like to live in a dorm and have a room mate. Building my confidence is a big theme.”

Michael from LaSalle High School and Nicholas from Sycamore High School, both juniors, cited making new friends as one of the best components of camp. “I’m really interested in learning this,” Klein said in Michael’s class, “and doing something good with it.”

Michael senses a collaboration with the School of IT and Special Education in software development and software quality assurance. “Some people’s brains are just naturally wired for this,” she says. “It’s repetitive and you need people fairly skilled who pay attention to details.” Putting that together with her cousin’s experience of mostly finding menial work, she connected with the special-education department and the camp.

Patrick, an incoming freshman at Bowling Green State University, looks forward to that app, however glitches delayed implementation. He attended the camp “to prepare for college and the social aspects have been helpful.”

It’s her third camp experience this summer. She directs the Designed Based Information Technologies Learning Experiences and its three-week camp, which ran concurrently with the UC Academic Scholars, whom she also taught.

Sam, a Milford High School student in a CSC IT class

Sam, a Milford High School student, enjoys the IT class

Exposing potential IT students, particularly those with Autism, to her passion, Michael says, offers “a great career path for those with reservations about working directly with people. It’s a way to get into a field of study, feel confident in one area where you control the computer and have success, then focus on the interpersonal communications that may be harder.”

Additionally, she views this camp as helping students “really engage with peers from different schools. They get the supported college experience, an introduction to different courses of study, but also a broad range of Autism in a similar experience and the chance to react to and talk about it.”

After graduation from the University of Cincinnati in IT, Michael worked for the aerospace-and-defense industry and helped rollout the Epic Electronic Health Record system at Children’s Hospital Medical Center before returning to the university as an adjunct professor. She is also a graduate coordinator.

College Success Camp – aimed at students intellectually ready, but not otherwise prepared for college – is the first of its kind in Ohio and one of few in the country. Find out more about the College Success Camp.