UPDATE: Since receiving his undergraduate degree at IUP in spring 2016,
Robert decided to add to his education by pursuing a dual masters degree
from IUP: an M.A. in Sociology and an M.Ed. in Special Education. As a
graduate student, he works as a graduate assistant in the sociology
department: he was a teaching assistant in fall 2016 and this semester
(spring 2017) he is working with sociology professor Dr. Susan Boser on
her ongoing research. He continues to be an active advocate for students
with disabilities, presenting his undergraduate research at the
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education summit on diversity and
inclusion in spring 2016.
His next step? His master's thesis, which will
examine the perceptions of disabilities on campus in order to use those
perceptions as a rationale to create a series of disability related
workshops to train students, faculty, staff and administrators on
disability related issues. His ultimate goal is to create a more inclusive
environment for individuals with disabilities who enter the
When he was in high school,
Robert Matchett found his passion.
It was on a class trip to
Costa Rica. It was there that his eyes were opened to the plight of others.
Since then, Matchett hasn’t stopped trying to find ways to help wherever he can.
It’s just become a part of what he is.
“I’ve just always had a
passion for service and advocating for others,” Matchett said.
Matchett’s passion will be
on display April 18–22 as he helps promote Autism Awareness Week at IUP, with a
series of events and activities designed to shed a light on what people with
autism—and their families—have to go through. It’s a matter close to
Matchett’s heart—he has several family members who live with autism—and he
sees the effects it can have.
“I just want to spread
awareness about Autism because much of what my
cousins and other individuals go through is people looking at them
differently,” he said. “We hope this eliminates some of the stigma around the disability so that people can
feel comfortable identifying as having a disability.”
The week will have several
events across campus that the entire community is invited to attend. Last year,
the first time Matchett organized the event, more than 1,300 people took part
in the workshops, lectures, and other activities, and he hopes that number
grows even bigger this time around.
Getting involved is nothing
new for Matchett. A Pittsburgh native, he has been a part of several on-campus
organizations, and he has been lauded for his efforts: In 2015, he was
presented with the Ray Coppler Disability Awareness Award, which is given
annually, and his honor fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, was awarded the C.H. McClure
Single Service Award, a national recognition given for an outstanding service
Matchett’s passion for the Autism
Awareness Week project is so deep that he’s also working to make sure it lives
on after he graduates this spring. He’s working with a close friend and brother
in his honor fraternity, Oktober Appleby, and he plans to hand over the
project’s reins to her after the conclusion of this year’s event.
“We have the same major, and
we both want to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves,” Appleby
said. “It was quite an honor for him to pick me. My main goal is to get more
people involved. It’s a great opportunity to for groups to get involved in
things like this.”
Annah Hill, a professor in
the IUP Department of Communication Disorders, Special Education, and
Disability Services, said Matchett and Appleby do an excellent job of organizing
events like this one.
“When it comes to assisting
individuals in need, Robert and Oktober have hearts of gold and the
determination that is needed in order to share their perspectives with others,”
Hill said. “They strive to promote the awareness of individuals with
special needs. They selflessly provide their time and energy.”
The events on campus are
designed to do more than just educate the public about autism. Matchett and
Appleby also hope their programs raise a lot of money, all of which will be
donated to Camp Lakey Gap, in Black Mountain, N.C. The camp “strives to nurture
individuals on the autism spectrum with an enriching camp experience and
provide guardians with a time of respite.”
“(Autism) is taxing on families depending on the severity
of the individual’s diagnosis,” Matchett said. “This camp does many great things
to help both the individuals who have autism and their families.”
If all goes well, Matchett
will hand off to Appleby a productive, sustainable program that will continue
to grow and help those with autism, and their families. And that’s what his
passion is all about.
“I’m hoping that it is more
well-attended than last year,” he said, “but also that we can continue to
spread the message about how important it is to be aware of autism and
disability in general. There are still stigmas out there that we hope to combat