Ability to Succeed
Erin Sutermeister ’20, MSDI ’21 remembers her first few college exams at Bentley. She prepared and understood the material, but the problem came in the actual test-taking process.
“I knew the answer and what I was supposed to be writing, but to physically write it out just took me longer than it should have,” she says of a string of GB (General Business) 112 tests. “It felt awful even though I would end up doing OK.”
At the encouragement of her mom, Sutermeister reached out to Stephanie Bohler, associate director of Disability Services at Bentley. And it turns out, Sutermeister was experiencing more than just exam-day jitters.
“Stephanie suggested neuropsychology testing to help discover potential underlying conditions that might be affecting my thinking skills,” Sutermeister recalls. “The results came back that I have ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and slow processing. It was so good to know that’s the reason I was struggling.”
Bohler worked closely with Sutermeister to set up accommodations that included extra time to take tests, a reduced distraction test-taking room and a note taker.
“At Bentley, we consider accessibility to be a community effort; it isn't something that just Disability Services considers but is something that the whole campus plays a role in,” Bohler says, adding a few examples: faculty implementing accommodations in their classrooms; campus services ensuring allergen information is available at campus eateries and that the shuttle is accessible to all; and IT and the Accessible Technology Center working on accessible remote learning and webpages.
Bentley creates an accessible, equitable and inclusive learning environment
“The test room was nice because I would typically get distracted by other students finishing their test and then worry that I was supposed to be done, too,” Sutermeister says. For online tests that used split screens, she would also have printed versions. This was particularly helpful for computer science courses that required coding so she could write down answers before entering them on the online test.
MENTOR BY EXAMPLE
Sutermeister was so successful navigating her ADHD that the following semester Bohler introduced her to an opportunity run out of the Bentley Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Center. Eye-to-Eye is a national mentoring program for students with learning and attention issues. It trains high school and college students with learning differences, including dyslexia and ADHD, to mentor similarly identified middle school students.
“We did projects and helped students develop their ‘toolbelt’ of resources to succeed,” Sutermeister says. Projects included headphones for a student who was hard of hearing and a calculator that explains the steps to solve a problem.
Much of Sutermeister’s role as a mentor was informed by her own experiences. “A big part of living with a disability is learning to advocate for yourself. We taught students how to use their voice if they needed help. Many of them expressed being worried that they wouldn’t be able to keep up in college, but we helped them see that there are avenues to get there, and it shouldn’t be a learning disability that stops them.”
PLAYING TO STRENGTHS
Though Sutermeister has at times struggled with school, she gained resiliency and determination at an early age. Much of that comes from her older brother.
“Sean is developmentally delayed with a seizure disorder, so growing up I had to take on responsibilities in caring for him,” says Sutermeister, who grew up in Taunton, Mass. “He is my driving force in what makes me want to succeed in life.”
A double Falcon, Sutermeister holds an undergraduate degree in Information Systems and Audit Control and a master’s degree in Digital Innovation. During the experience, she found her groove. Early morning classes? Not for her. She preferred midafternoon meeting times or longer night courses that met less frequently. Writing a paper? Sutermeister would find a quiet corner in the seating area of Jennison Hall.
Then came extracurricular. “After I figured out what I need for success in the classroom I said, ‘Now let's see what else I can do.’”
“What else” turned into a myriad of experiences. Sutermeister stepped in as president to revive the Bentley chapter of the Delta Alpha Pi honor society for students with disabilities and participated in a Bentley alternative spring break with Habitat for Humanity in Palm Beach, Fla., where she earned the “most valuable builder” award. She studied abroad in Australia. She was a mentor at Hanscom Air Force Base for their middle school girls, and the project manager for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) during her second semester senior year. Internships included posts at EMD Serono, Inc., Swarovski, Citizens Banks and BayCoast Bank.
“It was amazing to watch Erin grow during her time at Bentley,” Bohler says. “She came into my office as a shy first-year student trying to figure out her place on campus. It was incredible to see her push herself and take on leadership roles, engage in volunteer work and study abroad. She proved herself to be a strong advocate and a great mentor for younger students with disabilities. Wherever life takes her next, I know she will leave her mark.”
For Sutermeister, it circles back to opportunity, gratitude and family. “Since my brother is older, I felt like he should have been the first one going to college and having other experiences. That didn’t happen, so my thought process has always been that I need to be successful and not take anything for granted.”
Disability Services works with several departments across campus to create an inclusive environment and ensure that students have the resources to succeed.
Counseling Center: supports students’ emotional and mental health
Academic Advising: helps new students acclimate to Bentley and assists students with academic concerns
Bentley Care Team: helps to identify students who may be experiencing challenges and connect them with resources or services
Office of Diversity and Inclusion: fosters an inclusive community by leveraging interactions between offices, educating the entire community and working to increase diversity at all levels of the university
Pulsifer Career Development Center: helps students transition to a career through access to courses and experienced career coaches and a recruiting team
Title IX: gender-based harassment and discrimination policy and reporting (Student Affairs)
University Police: provides safety and emergency resources, identification cards and other services