Travis McArthur, a student in the autism spectrum disorders master's program, had a chance encounter with autism activist Temple Grandin. 

Travis McArthur, a student in the autism spectrum disorders master's program, manages the booth for his employer College Internship Program.

Balancing Work, School, and Celebrity Dinners

Travis McArthur never planned on working with people on the autism spectrum. Then again, he never planned on having dinner with best-selling author and autism activist Temple Grandin. These things just sort of happen to him.

Travis, a student in the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) master’s program, works at College Internship Program (CIP) in Lee – a support program for young adults on the autism spectrum. He leaves straight from work for his classes on the Chicopee campus, then heads home to Connecticut, leaving an interstate triangle in his wake.

The flexibility of the ASD program allows Travis to juggle his full-time job, which often requires travel, with the rigorous coursework. While traveling to a recent conference for The Asperger & Autism Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, Travis checked into his hotel and turned around to discover Temple Grandin right behind him.

A Rare Opportunity

Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science, a best-selling author, and one of the most widely-known autism activists.

“I had to introduce myself because I’ve read all of her books. We had a 30-second conversation before she invited me to dinner. I said ‘sure.’ This is a chance of a lifetime,” Travis said.

Travis described dinner as an amazing experience. They spoke about everything from autism to movies. “She definitely has the social deficits but she’s so brilliant she makes up for it,” he said. “Not a lot of people have autism and can be that verbal and describe what they feel and how they see the world.”

 Temple and Travis

Graduating from SUNY Geneseo as a psychology major, Travis began working for an assisted living facility in Florida. He picked up a part-time job at CIP’s Brevard, Florida location as a social mentor and a job coach.

He eventually became a residential coordinator at the Berkshire location where Elms was offering graduate courses in autism spectrum disorders. After taking a few courses, Travis decided to enroll in the master’s program.

“I love how applied behavioral analysis quantifies behavior. There’s a reason for everything that the students do. It’s almost like a puzzle, trying to figure out how to help them,” he said of the program.

Travis will graduate this summer and is considering pursuing his Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification.