Alumni Spotlight: Joseph Russano C’18, Special Education Instructional Paraprofessional at Princeton Child Development Institute

Joseph Russano suffered a concussion when he was in high school and this has played a role in his career goal of wanting to help others who suffer from invisible disabilities.

He was attracted to Drew because of the small class sizes and the opportunity to form relationships with the professors.  After taking an Intro to Sociology with Dr. Kesha Moore. He said, “She hooked me on Sociology when she started the class by showing the “Blue pill or Red pill” scene from the film The Matrix.  She framed the movie scene in such a way to say that if we take the class, it would be like taking the red pill and our view of the world would change by seeing it through a sociological perspective. It pulled me into the social sciences.”  

While at Drew, Joseph was on the fencing team, worked as a tour guide, was part of the sociology club and interned in the Admissions office.

After graduating Drew with a B.A. in Sociology in 2018, he worked as an Interim Admissions Counselor at Drew before starting an M.A. in Psychological Studies – Applied Behavior Analysis at Seton Hall University. He is currently working as a Special Education Instructional Paraprofessional at Princeton Child Development Institute where he works with children on the autism spectrum.  His future plans include a Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology.

CAREER IN PSYCHOLOGY

When did you decide you wanted to pursue an M.A. in Psychology? 

I didn’t realize this is something I wanted to do until after I graduated Drew. While working at as an Interim Admissions Counselor, I was inspired to pursue a career in psychology after talking to perspective students. I applied to Seton Hall University and started studying for an M.A. in Psychological Studies – Applied Behavior Analysis. I’ll be graduating August of 2021.

Can you talk about your work as a Special Education Instructional Paraprofessional at Princeton Child Development Institute

I am currently working with individuals on the autism spectrum and in charge of implementing behavioral interventions that allow them to gain skills in their everyday curriculum.  I’m doing what a teacher does but it’s all data driven. It started as an internship but they recently offered me a full time job. My goal is to accumulate enough hours to become board certified as a behavior analyst. I am constantly evolving as a clinician.

What are some of the highlights of your work?

Seeing students grasp the material socially and/or educationally and seeing them succeed is a highlight of my work.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years in your career?

I hope to be in a Ph.D. program in Clinical Neuropsychology and I am taking steps to get there.  After my master’s degree I will be applying to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue an advanced certificate in neuroscience.

You have agreed to be part of the Visible/Invisible Disabilities Community Panel.  Can you discuss your disability and how it has affected your life?

I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (an invisible disability.)  It took me three years to recover cognitively and my recovery took me two years into Drew.  The Office of Accessibility gave me the confidence to feel I was in an environment that supported me and there was not a stigma attached to it.  When I was fencing at Drew I suffered from another concussion and the Office of Accessibility always asked me if there was anything they could do to help me.  Drew is a community and it supports students who may not need the services. This shaped the direction I wanted to go in.  I was inspired to help others especially those who went through what I went through, especially those who may not have the resources I had at Drew and don’t know where to turn for help. Drew made me feel it was okay to reach out and that I was not alone no matter what disability you identify with. There are no restrictions. That is what I want to incorporate in my path to human services.

What are the strengths of this disability?

My strengths are resilience and positivity.  As a human being you can endure so much and everything you can endure only helps to shape the person you become later on.  These challenges make us stronger and more confident in ourselves.

What advice would you give students who have a similar disability?

You’re not alone.  You are heard and validated.  Not everyone can understand what you feel, but specifically at Drew there is a community available, and it extends beyond the disabilities community, that is willing to listen and assist in any way possible and make the individual the priority.  Be positive and be confident in yourself.

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