Doris Stusiak has added a strengthening strand to a safety net of human-services work woven throughout her family.
“My ex-husband is a school psychologist. My daughter is a social worker, my son-in-law works in human services. It’s a desire that seems to be in my family,” said Stusiak.
Stusiak fulfills her desire to serve as Northern State University’s director of disability services, which she began in October 2012.
She most recently worked at Presentation College in Aberdeen, where she was director of campus health. At Presentation, Stusiak was campus counselor, maintained contracts for health and mental health services and oversaw campus housing and disability services.
'Opportunity of a lifetime'
“This job was the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Stusiak, who says she knew former Disability Services Director Karen Gerety well.
“In this job, I have more contact with students. I like the one-on-one and getting to know the students.”
Stusiak, who has a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from Northern and a bachelor’s in business education, for many years was a teacher and counselor in small schools in Grant, Deuel and Codington counties and in Watertown.
At school, Stusiak sat in on Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, witnessing firsthand students’ struggles and the schools’ efforts to help. Stusiak said she knows some Northern students struggle, too.
To minimize that struggle, Stusiak said she “likes to help level the playing field” for students with disabilities that may include:
• Learning disabilities (when a student’s achievement level doesn’t match their intelligence level)
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Visual impairment
• Hearing loss
• Other physical or emotional disabilities
Challenge level consistent
Stusiak stressed that a student making use of accommodations is challenged at the same level as other students.
“We don’t modify the curriculum or 'dumb it down,' ” she said. “They’re not learning less, but we’re accommodating the learning situation they have.”
An accommodation for a student with ADHD might be determining a spot for them to sit and take notes or a test with the least amount of potential distraction, Stusiak said. The student might benefit from assistive technology such as a Smartpen. Or, she added, the student might receive extended time for a test they’d take in a test room.
A Northern student who had surgery over Christmas returned and worked with Disability Services to have higher tables and chairs available in her classes while she recovered, Stusiak added.
“Faculty are very accepting of students who need our services, and they always respond positively,” she said.
More students need services
Stusiak said statistics show more students with disabilities are applying and being accepted to colleges and universities, thanks in part to federal legislation that requires high school special education teachers to create a transition plan for graduates.
“In general, the numbers are growing. More students are coming to higher education all the time,” Stusiak said. “In my day, if you weren’t at the top of your class, you didn’t go to college. Today, more students are accepted, and we can help them.”
She said her office currently serves about 85 students from a roster of about 115. Not all students on the roster need services every semester, and some are absent from campus for student teaching, she said.
Working to get the word out
Stusiak thinks more Northern students might benefit from Disability Services help. For example, she said, the office serves only one or two military veterans out of the 60 or 70 enrolled. “They may be struggling, but we don’t know,” she said.
Students with disabilities who are accepted at Northern must identify themselves as someone who might need services, she said.
“We don’t know if they don’t tell us: ‘I have a disability, this is what it is, and this is how it affects my life and learning.’ A challenge in my job is to get the word out that you can apply for and probably qualify for benefits.”
Any student who thinks he or she may have a disability is welcome to inquire at Disability Services for information and possible testing, even if they weren't on an IEP in high school, Stusiak said.