A motto at Castleton University is to make a difference at the university before you go out and make a difference in the world.
Jared Goodrich, a non-traditional student at Castleton, embodies that.
He’s a 29-year-old transfer student from the Community College of Vermont and while many students will have their college education completed in four years, this is Goodrich’s ninth.
He enrolled at CCV in the fall of 2009. Last June, he graduated with an associate’s degree in liberal arts, taking mostly history courses. Now at Castleton, he hopes to get his bachelor’s degree in history by 2020.
But there’s more to Goodrich’s story. There’s something that makes him unique, what he calls his “superpower.”
He has autism.
But to Goodrich, it’s an opportunity.
And Michael Kingsbury, one of Goodrich’s professors at CCV, knows that.
“He’s an inspirational guy,” Kingsbury said. “He was in my improvisational comedy class and he was so positive. He was ready to jump up and try anything. I never heard him say ‘I can’t.’”
Autism has not slowed Goodrich down at all and he actually is a part of the the Rutland Autism Family Group, a non-profit organization striving to raise awareness and acceptance of autism. He’s even done a story-telling event at the Vermont Achievement Center, a small school in Rutland for children with autism.
His message is powerful.
“Your children can be as successful as me,” he said.
He talked about his life with autism, trying to inspire the children who attend the school as well as their parents. When he was asked to tell his story, he said he happily would.
“A person with my disabilities can do as well as me, and their kids can do the same,” Goodrich said with a smile.
“Back in the 90s when I was growing up, there was not a lot of understanding about autism. They used to tell me you’re never gonna make it this far, they didn’t think I was gonna do this. Here’s a five-year program, you’re never gonna graduate high school that fast. Well, guess what? I did,” he said with a laugh.
His success is also highlighted by several extra educational endeavors. He is currently working with professor Adam Chill on historical research. Collaborating on historical research is not common, especially when the research is just beginning, but Chill is happy to be working with Goodrich.
“I haven’t had this opportunity and I don’t think any other history major I know of has had the opportunity to kind of, you know, for us to collaborate in this really early stage where we just don’t know where it’s going to go,” Chill said.
“I’m excited for Jared to be involved because you really are able to see what historical research looks like from its very inception and to go through all the steps and the trial and error that is necessarily going to be a part of it.”
The research is based on beef production and consumption in 19th century Britain and Ireland. It will focus on how beef production and distribution became an opportunity after the potato famine and how that broad distribution network came about. It also focuses on how supply chains were impacted after beef production became popular, Chill said. He recently wrote a proposal to get a grant for the research.
Goodrich, who loves history, cannot wait to get started.
“I’m excited for it, I really am,” he said passionately. “We talked about getting access to newspapers out of London and I would really love to peruse this.”
In addition to the research, Goodrich hopes to be involved in some sort of independent study next year with professor Scott Roper, where he will assist in developing new courses based on Geographical Information Systems.
GIS is more than just studying earth and its surfaces, analyzing geography and how we can use it to benefit us.
Roper already has a tentative syllabus for these courses, but he would use Goodrich for help in creating lessons and projects for the course.
“I’ll have somebody that I can bounce ideas off of when we’re developing projects, who can tell me if something is working if it’s not working, if it’s clear or if it’s unclear,” Roper said.
Goodrich will also benefit greatly from this assistance. The independent study ties in perfectly with his major and his potential career.
“I get to learn more about GIS programming and I’ll get more certified for a GIS technician position, but also I’d get to dabble in assisting professor Roper in a way that I get to learn the administrative ideas of working in a school environment. I’ve always considered maybe eventually teaching in that sort of field so it kind of helps me learn from him as well,” Goodrich said.
With his involvement in the history and GIS programs, and his inspiration among those with autism, Goodrich is already making an impact both on campus and in the community. He does it with a smile on his face, always speaking with excitement and joy knowing that he is making a difference.
“You can be successful with this disability no matter what, as long as you have the support system and the determination to do so,” he said.