Towson University graduate overcame barriers of autism to receive degree in math

TOWSON, MD. - A Towson University graduate overcame the barriers that come with autism to graduate with a Bachelors in Math and minor in Computer Science.

Ben Smith, 25, was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. He knew growing up he was different from his classmates and friends.

"I was very shy, I was like uncooperative with some things that are not a big deal,"Smith said.

Smith attended Harford Community College, then came to Towson University as a transfer in January 2014 to pursue a degree in math. In the same year, the College Orientation and Life Activities program started.

"Our folks are very good at the things they do, operating a computer or mathematics, but it's those work place social communication skills that trip them up, so if we can spend some time supporting you in those areas, then it's almost like we're trying to get you to a point where you're succeeding and able to leave us," Zosia Zaks, COLA Program Director, said.

At the university, Smith had a go-getter mindset. He interned, was part of DAP, an honor society for students with disabilities and ran the website for the group.

He tutored other students in math, and took difficult classes. He lived in a dorm, like any other student, had a roommate and took tests, pushing himself toward the goal of graduation.

"He quickly became part of our community, quickly connected with the staff, attended every program possible and really became a critical member of the Tower A community and the Glenn community where we all lived," Assistant Director of Resident Life Lisa Simmons-Barth said.

"With every challenge, he faces it with something he's doing to build skills for the future," Simmons-Barth said, adding everyone knows him wherever he goes.

Walking across the stage, Smith's smile grew as he accepted his diploma and walked off stage. Once in his seat the sense of accomplishment radiated from him.

"I'm planning to do Operations Research or Statistics, because I really want to focus on working for the government and the company," Smith said.

With plans to get a job and continue schooling to get a Masters, Smith will continue pushing himself to reach any goal he sets his mind to.

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