Emily (Millie) Eckerd, an undergraduate special education major in IUP's College of Education and Communications, has been awarded the Ray Coppler Disability Awareness Award for 2019-20.

Emily Eckerd, recipient of the 2020 Coppler AwardHer nominator, a fellow undergraduate student at IUP, wrote:

"Millie Eckerd dedicates much of her life to advocating for students with disabilities. I believe she is the exemplary model of someone who deeply cares about the community of students with disabilities at IUP and she does everything in her power to bring awareness to issues they face. This past year, Millie has served as the Student Government Disability Support Service Senator and has gone above and beyond what the position asks her to do. As a senator, Millie is supposed to meet with the IUP Department for Disability Access & Advising (D2A2) once a month, but she meets with Dr. Cathy Dugan (the director) bi-weekly, if not every week. She has held several different events to raise awareness for disabilities. These events include her rare disease week programming, where she tabled and had students put their hand prints on a sign showing their support, which then led up to a keynote presentation on rare diseases. She also planned programming for disability pride month, which unfortunately needed to be rescheduled [because of the COVID-19 pandemic], but she has not let that stop her. She has been posting on the Student Government Association's social media to raise awareness and also created an autism awareness video. Millie has also had Student Government Association participate in wearing certain colors in support of different diseases and disabilities. She also gave a wonderful presentation to Student Government Association on disabilities and person first language. Millie tries her hardest to make every event inclusive and has even brought to our attention how to make our meetings more accessible in our virtual format by adding subtitles. Millie is not afraid to ask questions about inclusion when needed and has brought problems to the attention of administrators that have not been considered, such as how we are going to accommodate for student who use mobility aids when we start construction on the new science building. Along with this, she has helped with the disability simulator in conjunction with President Driscoll in order to find areas on campus that are not accessible and how we can work to fix these issues. Millie is also involved in Best Buddies and other groups that advocate for people with disabilities. I have never met anyone with more passion than Millie Eckerd and I believe she is the perfect person to receive this award."

At the receiving of the award (late spring 2020), Millie has been an IUP student a little less than a year, transferring from another State System university during summer 2019. Throughout her relatively short time at IUP she's already left a significantly positive mark on the inclusion of our students with disabilities:

  • Within a few months of her first semester of IUP, Emily was asked to run for Student Government Association as the Disability Support Services Senator. The president of SGA had personally reached out to her as he had heard of her efforts to help organizations create more accessible and inclusive environments. After receiving over 60 signatures from her peers and being voted in, she began diving deeper into the task of making IUP a more equitable and accessible environment.
  • Millie reached out to and set-up meetings with varoius IUP administrators, such as President Driscoll and Vice President for University Advancement Osseiran-Hanna.
  • She began working on a "Disability Simulations" project, which would highlight for our administrators the importance of the services provided by the IUP Department for Disability Access and Advising.
  • Millie connected with alumni who had previously received disability services so that they could share their stories of success and allow current students to see disability representation.
  • Millie worked with IUP faculty to inquire on what type of training they would like to receive in order to help them develop more fully inclusive classrooms.
  • She connected with the University Police to work on designing training to help officers properly interact with students with various types of disabilities.
  • Millie began meeting with Catherine Dugan, director of the Department for Disability Access and Advising, to create a regular dialogue and gateway for students receiving disability services to have their voices heard via Student Government Association representation.
  • This past February, just prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Millie created and implemented multiple events at IUP for Rare Disease Week.
  • Even now, during this unusual time when all students are studying online away from campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Millie has been continuing her efforts. For Autism Awareness Month, she created an informative video, providing facts about autism and the services provided by IUP. She also partnered with Miss Greater Juniata Valley on creating an informative podcast series on disability-related topics. And Millie has been running an informational blog, narrating her experiences as an individual with multiple exceptionalities, to help able-bodied individuals better understand the point of view of someone with a disability.
  • Furthermore, Millie's disability awareness and advocacy efforts have not been limited only to IUP. In the surrounding Indiana community, Millie began volunteering this past year to teach GED classes for local prison inmates with disabilities. She also reached out to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Greenstein to address disability accessibility and inclusion issues on a statewide systems level.

Millie recently wrote,

"Disability is more than just a word or a topic to me. It is my life, it is the life of my friends, it is the life of millions of people.My service and dedication is not to fulfill requirements of programs or to check off boxes. It is not a "trophy" experience that I use to promote myself, but rather a learning experience to shape myself into a better person and my community into a more accessible, loving, and accepting environment. If I could only give one message to those without an exceptionality, it would be to remind others that if we spend all of our time focusing on the disabilities, we miss out on the awesome people behind them. In a world where we can be anything, be kind, inclusive, and loving."