UVU Announces Plans to Build Autism Building on Its Campus
For Immediate Release
University Marketing & Communications: Melinda Colton | 801-863-6807
Utah Valley University’s Board of Trustees approved moving forward on constructing a privately funded building on campus that will support community members, working professionals, future educators and individuals with autism. The proposed facility will now move to the Board of Regents and State Building Board for consideration.
One in 54 children in Utah is diagnosed each year with autism spectrum disorder. UVU has been responsive to community needs by offering an autism studies minor and autism certificate program. “UVU is committed to becoming the regional hub for autism education,” said UVU President Matthew S. Holland. “We will soon have a dedicated structure because of the generosity of individuals and companies who understand the urgent need for additional resources dedicated to autism.”
The 10,000-square-foot building pending Regents’ approval will be completely funded by private and business donations. It will house therapy rooms for counseling, diagnostics, social skills groups and family support; sensory rooms; two sensory playgrounds; and sensory landscape that will enhance children’s motor skills and ability to engage in science exploration. The play space will also feature a learning garden and water table.
It is anticipated that the new autism facility will be located adjacent to the School of Education and will house a preschool and elementary-level laboratory classrooms. The building will also be utilized by UVU’s Passages program, which provides young adults with higher-functioning autism the opportunity to enroll in noncredit college-level classes designed to enhance the social and independent life skills necessary for them to be successful in a higher education setting.
“We are not going to be the university that cracks the genetic code for autism, but we can and should be the university that cracks the code for providing the best services to individuals on the autism spectrum,” said President Holland.
A key component of the growth of autism awareness and support has been UVU’s Autism Initiative Committee. The committee is co-chaired by David Yells, dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences, and Parker Fawson, dean of the School of Education. With members from various entities across campus and the community, the committee brings together unique perspectives to create positive results in the autism arena.
“A lot of groups are working on autism, but they’re not coordinating their efforts,” said Keith Nellesen, who, with his wife, Melisa, donated the initial gift for the facility. “At UVU, researchers approaching the puzzle from different perspectives can share their ideas and find the best solutions. If professionals come out of UVU with a greater awareness of the challenges of autism and with the skills to unlock the doors, we can help literally thousands of families.”
The Melisa Nellesen Autism program will be housed in the Cole Nellesen Autism Building. The UVU Board of Trustees will now seek approval from the Utah State Board of Regents to formally designate the facility a center. The Melisa Nellesen Autism Program Fund will exclusively cover operating and program funding.
The second floor, expected to feature a flexible space for training and engagement for families and community members, will be named the Clear Horizons Academy Second Floor thanks to the generosity of J. Brent and Kathryn Wood, founders/owners of Clear Horizons Academy. The academy’s mission is to build brighter futures for children with autism.
The two playground areas and sensory landscaping are being funded by dōTERRA. Kirk Jowers, vice president of dōTERRA corporate relations, said, “dōTERRA is honored to be involved in this project. The work UVU is undertaking with the new autism building is critical for countless families. This partnership was a natural fit because the purpose of the building aligns so closely with dōTERRA’s mission of empowering individuals and families in their health and wellness options.”
Vivint, a local home automation company, has donated funding for two sensory room suites, and Vivint CEO Todd Pedersen and his wife, Andrea, are personally funding the pre-K classroom. “Vivint is 100 percent committed to supporting children with autism,” said Pedersen. “This an opportunity for our entire community to come together to care for these dedicated and often-overlooked families.”
Casey Baugh, a vice president of sales at Vivint, is funding the Casey and Chelsea Baugh Classroom. John R. Pestana, co-founder of Omniture, has donated funding for an interior space, yet to be determined.
“Teachers who understand the processing needs of these children will produce an enhanced learning environment where these students can flourish,” said Fawson. “We are partnering with other colleges at UVU, along with community service providers, to build comprehensive help for families and educational professionals to better understand and support these children.”
UVU currently offers Utah’s only minor in autism studies, which, like the Passages program, is housed in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences. The minor requires a series of six classes that focus on autism across the lifespan, best practice treatment methodology and more than 200 hours of training with experienced professionals currently working with those living with ASD.
“We are very grateful for the support we have received in response to our efforts to serve the autism community,” said Yells. “The building will allow us to further support UVU’s core themes of serious, inclusive and engaged.”
The School of Education will also establish two demonstration classrooms in the new facility to model effective instructional and support strategies for school professionals. This will include one classroom for pre-K children and one for children in grades 1-3. Additionally, a virtual classroom is being established where school professionals can hone their skillsets.
“Having this new autism facility in close proximity to where professionals are being prepared will greatly enhance the quality and quantity of specialists who can engage in impactful ways with families and children who desperately need this support in the community and in schools,” said Fawson.
Those wanting to make a contribution to fund the building and/or ongoing program costs, visit supportuvu.org/autism. Additional naming opportunities are still available. Donors may also contact Nancy Smith, senior director of donor engagement, at 801-863-8896 or firstname.lastname@example.org.