Education majors at Rider University stepped outside of the classroom in a joint venture, taking strides to promote autism advocacy and research at the 13th annual Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks event in West Windsor.
Heather K. Warren-Khot

Rider students at the 13th annual Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks event.

Scores of Rider faculty, staff, students and alumni were on the move on a cold, rainy autumn Sunday afternoon to promote autism understanding and awareness at the 13th annual Central Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks event at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor. A fun-filled, family-friendly event, Walk Now for Autism Speaks is Autism Speaks’ most effective and visible force to fund vital research to solve the riddle of the fastest-growing serious developmental disorder in the United States.

Autism spectrum disorder is a strong focus of many Education majors at Rider University, given its expanding prevalence among children. It is a subject that hits particularly close to home in New Jersey, where some studies have shown that as many as 1 in 94 children are on the autism spectrum, one of the highest rates in the nation.

Three Rider education student associations joined forces to experience firsthand the power of group volunteerism and community service at the “Walk Now” event. Rider chapters of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society (KDP), and the Student Education Association (SEA) partnered to create and sell team T-shirts for the 1.25-mile course around the Mercer County Community College campus.  All profits from the T-shirts and money raised from the pledges of the walkers’ friends and families were donated to Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism awareness and outreach organization.

During one week of sales, the three student organizations sold more than 100 T-shirts to the Rider community to raise funds. At least 170 Rider students turned out for the walk. 

“With such a large turnout despite the weather that day, it really made me proud to say I represent the Rider group,” said Licia Keevill ’13, vice president of Rider’s student-run CEC chapter, who designed event T-shirts.

“This was the first time in my four years walking for Rider that the weather was foul,” said Christina Eugene ’13, co-president of KDP. “And yet, the turnout was amazing. It was so great to see that everyone was still willing to come out and support the cause.” 

Keevill and Maria Ingargiola ’13, CEC president, organized the Department of Education’s volunteer effort. Together, the three Rider organizations raised $3,726, as of November 21, for Autism Speaks to date. In total, more than 2,000 Central New Jersey participants raised over $205,000 for the charity in one day. 

A four-year Rider participant in the walk, Courtney Biondo ’13 has family and friends who have been diagnosed along the autism spectrum. She says that her training and experience in educating diverse populations has grown with each year.

“Now that I have more knowledge about autism and the spectrum, the walk is even more meaningful for me,” she said. As a co-community service chair and active member of Alpha Xi Delta, Biondo is happy to report that her organization raised more than $4,000 for Autism Speaks this year. Biondo’s interest in working in this area has flourished at Rider, she explained, adding that she plans to study applied behavioral methods and continue to develop her skill set in working with and supporting diverse student populations.

Dr. Michele Wilson Kamens, professor of Education and CEC co-adviser, was delighted with the student effort on what could have been a dreary day. “I can’t tell you how impressed and proud I am of our students, and their service to the autism community,” she said.