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'Hiding' in plain sight

May 2, 2016

New College Outstanding Graduate Michael Montpetit focuses his time at ASU on the dearth of research for adults on autism spectrum

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Michael Montpetit draws strength from what others may see as a challenge. Montpetit self-identifies as having an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, and he is passionate about advocating for others who are going through some of the same struggles he has.

The communications masters student from Port Huron, Michigan, was chosen as one of the New College Outstanding Graduate Students for the Class of 2016 in part because he has become a role model for students in the ASU community.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: As an undergraduate at Michigan State University, I knew I wanted to go to grad school so I could teach within academia and learn more about how autistic adults live and function within society. There is quite a bit of research that focuses on children and autism, but not really adults who are on the spectrum. Since I am on the spectrum, I believe at times that having an ASD inhibits me, and I hypothesized that there are other people who have an ASD that feel the same way. These people don't just disappear, become cured or assimilate. I thought this is an area of study that would benefit the scientific community, and research needs to be conducted to truly understand what it is like to be an adult with an ASD.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: While doing research for my thesis, which was on having an ASD and being within a romantic relationship, I discovered that those who are on the spectrum can successfully find love and be in a monogamous relationship. I did hear stories about how being on the spectrum made finding love very difficult, but I also heard stories of triumph or overcoming their disorder to cultivate a relationship. I was really surprised when I found out how successful many of my research participants were at intimate relationships by believing in themselves, trusting their partner and finding a way, sometimes very unconventionally, to make their relationship work. Having an ASD, or any disorder, is only a hindrance if you believe it to be. If you are positive, you can find ways to overcome it.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When looking for graduate programs, I was advised to locate instructors who have performed research within my field of interest and see where they teach. While searching for research on the communication of individuals with an ASD, I came across Dr. Majia Nadesan at ASU New College and reached out to her. We talked over the phone, and she piqued my interest into coming here.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Plan ahead, establish good rapport and relationships with your instructors early on, and never give up! It will get hard and at times seem insurmountable, but in the end, it will all be worth it.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Because I study and reside on the West campus, I spend much of my time there. My favorite spot to study is the third floor of Fletcher Library. There is a quiet area with computers to browse the internet or write papers, and the offices of the librarians are nearby just in case I needed help or guidance.  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on working toward my PhD someday. But before I do, I would like to work for a nonprofit agency that specializes in learning more about autism and helping those who possess this disorder.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would fund projects designed to foster more understanding about what it is like to be an adult and possess an ASD. If more researchers study these concepts, then better support services can be put into place to help these people self-actualize vocationally, relationally and personally. Perhaps, it may reverse thinking that people who are on the spectrum disappear or assimilate.

Top photo by Ruth Dempsey

 
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Helping the health of his hometown

May 2, 2016

Andy Meza aims to make a difference in the underserved populations in Yuma

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Andres “Andy” Meza’s goal in life is lofty but achievable: to leave a mark on the Hispanic community.

If the 22-year-old Yuma native continues to follow his educational path, that goal will be attainable in just a few short years.

Meza, a kinesiology major from the College of Health Solutions, is headed to A.T. Still University’s satellite campus in east Mesa after he graduates from ASU in May, to obtain his Doctorate of Physical Therapy. He says after he becomes a doctor, he’ll head back to Yuma, where he’ll help address the needs of an underserved population.

“Being a border town, Yuma has a lot of field and blue-collar workers and not a lot of health-care professionals,” Meza said. “The language barrier is a real problem, and there’s often a miscommunication between patient and provider. Lack of communication could lead to a treatment that’s not right for them or put them on a path they don’t want to necessarily want to be.

“I want to help people understand the service I am trying to provide to them.”

Meza is graduating summa cum laude with a 3.95 GPA and is the last of his siblings, who are all first-generation college graduates. He is, however, the first in his family to pursue a graduate degree.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: While taking my management course, I realized that if I was going to invest all this time in school, I better like what I am learning — I needed to do something that I love. I knew that I wanted to do physical therapy in high school, but I didn’t want to go to school for seven years, I just wanted four years and done. However, after being at ASU, I realized that the seven years would be worth it if I liked it versus four and not liking what I am doing. Plus, I didn’t like the coding as far as engineering goes. The little things in the human body made me really like what I was learning. 


Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: When in doubt, you can always rely on real science. After butchering various myths in a few of my classes, it made me realize how gullible one can be. Now I can make sure to always do my research before being influenced, even if it isn’t science-related. 


Q: Why did you choose ASU?


A: I knew I wanted to stay in state, from Yuma, this is the closest city to me and family is very important to me. It was really important that I have access to them whenever necessary. And who wants to live in Tucson, right? 

The football games, big campus, bigger city — I come from a small town and wanted to try something different as far as demographics go as opposed to being confined in a small town like my entire life.

The engineering program drew me here, and I started off in mechanical engineering and didn’t like what I was learning, and we learned about the human body and realized that that was what I was passionate about learning and switched to KIN after reviewing majors. 


Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?


A: Get to know your professor personally. They aren’t there to present a lecture; they genuinely care about your success. Whether it is personally, professional or academic advice, they may be the perfect person to guide you in the right direction. You’ll never know when you need a helping hand.

Second piece of advice: Don’t mess around early; leave yourself some cushion. When times start to get rough, that extra cushion can save your grade or GPA regardless if it’s beginning of your college career or your last semester.


Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?


A: Second floor of the Cronkite building in the study room because it was quiet and had a lot of light and made studying more tolerable/pleasurable. I like sunlight and not gloomy like the underground basement.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’ll be attending A.T. Still University in Mesa to get my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I want to stay in the Valley to get a good mentorship for five years. Once I establish myself I want to go back to Yuma to help out there. 


Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I want to perfect renewable energy. I really dislike fluctuating gas prices. It’s one of the things that really grinds my gears. How can gas go from $1.60 one week and be 60 cents more the next week?

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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