2015–16 Recipient: William VanEmburg

  • At the time William VanEmburg was recognized in spring 2016, his bio and background information for why he received the Coppler Award were as follows:

    “William is a junior at IUP, pursuing a double major in both early childhood/special education and disability services.

    “His nominator, an undergraduate classmate at IUP, wrote that William is ‘extremely passionate and devoted to raising awareness for many different causes related to disability.’ Some of the reasons for which William was nominated for this year’s award include the following:

    “As a freshman, William joined IUP’s chapter of Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating one-to-one friendship, job opportunities, and leadership development for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During his freshman year, he served in the position of membership coordinator. In his sophomore year, he was elected to president. Now, as a junior, he is serving in his second year as president of IUP’s Best Buddies.

    “This year, William helped run ‘Spread the Word to End the Word,’ a Best Buddies initiative aimed at stopping the cultural use of the negative word ‘retarded.’ He sold t-shirts and developed an interactive event called ‘Lend a Hand in Stopping the R Word.”

    “Notably, William is collaborating presently with another undergraduate IUP student on applying for a grant through the Emerging Student Leader Grant Award. With this grant, they would propose to develop a student-run Disability Awareness Resource Center within on-campus housing. The goal of this proposed center would be to serve as a multifunctional space to be utilized by students who have disabilities and/or are interested in disability issues. The space would house informational resources, and would ideally serve as a stimulus to further advance disability awareness within the IUP community.

    “William was also part of an undergraduate research team last year that focused on how having a peer mentoring program at the college level might benefit students with autism. With his team, William presented on this project at the 2015 IUP Undergraduates Scholar Forum, and won first place for Outstanding Presentation. William and his team then went on to present at the Council for Exceptional Children statewide conference in Pennsylvania, and then again nationally at the CEC Teacher Education Division conference in Arizona. William and his team are continuing their research efforts this semester, as they’re working on a case study and attempting to have their work published.

    “This semester, William transitioned from serving as president of Alpha Phi Omega (a service fraternity) in order to take on an opportunity with Community Living and Learning as a relief worker. This entails working at a variety of group homes for individuals with disabilities. He assists these individuals with their daily living skills, encourages them to be independent, and, most importantly, acts as an advocate for them.

    “William also regularly participates in Admitted Student Days at IUP, where he shares his experiences and promotes both the early childhood/special education and the disability services majors.

    “For all of these reasons, William has been named the sixth annual recipient of the Ray Coppler Disability Awareness Award, for the 2015–16 academic year. He has demonstrated exemplary contributions to disability education, awareness, and inclusiveness at IUP and the greater community.”