Center for Access awarded $50,000 SERS grant; plans autism camp

Southwest’s Center for Access will begin recruiting students for a new Access to Pathways Autism Camp for high school graduates with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, thanks to a $50,000 Student Engagement Retention and Success grant awarded by the Tennessee Board of Regents recently.

The grant will fund the 3-day autism camp June 3-5, 2021, and other Access to Pathways initiatives aimed at providing a tailored peer mentorship program designed to help Southwest students with disabilities who have a 2.40 GPA improve their academic performance and reach their educational goals. High school seniors with ASD with be targeted for assistance, too.

Staff will begin recruiting students for the autism camp in November.  Students can apply online to attend the camp beginning January 2021. Six openings will be available on a first come, first served basis.

“Often students with ASD encounter stress and anxiety when transitioning to higher education,” Center for Access Director Courtney Gipson said. “The three-day camp will be offered in summer to prepare and equip students with the tools and resources needed to navigate college in fall.”

President Tracy D. Hall says the grant will provide critical funds that will empower the College to extend services to a population that has been historically underserved. “Access is meaningless if it is not inclusive and is not provided equitably,” Hall said.  “These funds will enable us to reimagine how we serve students with disabilities and expand their access to success at Southwest.”

According to Associate Vice President for Student Success and Retention Jacqueline Taylor, nearly half of the students with disabilities enrolled at the College in 2019-2020 had a 2.40 GPA or below.

“This grant represents a leap forward in our student advocacy efforts as it gives us the opportunity to increase our capacity and personalized supports to students with disabilities,” Dr. Taylor said.  “I look forward to the innovative ways in which the Center for Access can meet the needs of this deserving population.”

The grant award coincides with rebranding the name of the former Office of Student Disabilities to the Center for Access. “Changing our name to the Center for Access is reflective of our goal to create an inclusive environment for students to access all that we have to offer,” Gipson said. “The grant initiative and rebranding reinforce our College’s strategic plan to support systemic change where needed, provide an inclusive learning environment focused on increasing social mobility and grow student retention and graduation rates.”

Gipson says the Center hopes to double the number of students it can help over the next two years, with the help of the program’s new coordinator, Amanda Prewitt.

For more information about Access to Pathways and Southwest’s Autism Camp, contact Courtney Gipson at