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Taking the First Steps with Alyssa Levitt

Posted by on Thursday, May 7, 2020 in Immersion Blog.

A girl sits happily on a horse. Alyssa Levitt, smiling, leads the horse by the reigns in a rodeo arena. Two women stand on either side of the horse.
2017 Georgia Special Olympics Horse Show

Hi, I’m Alyssa, a rising junior Medicine, Health, and Society (MHS) major. Growing up I overcame developmental delays from being born premature, and for the past seven years I have volunteered at a therapeutic horseback riding program serving children and adults with special needs. This experience sparked my interest in pursuing a career in the medical field.

At Vanderbilt, I have continued to work with people with disabilities. Next school year, I will be the president of Best Buddies, an organization that matches student members with members of the Nashville community who have intellectual or developmental disabilities to foster friendships and provide social mentoring. This spring, I also had the opportunity to learn more about disabilities in an academic setting through a course entitled MHS 2520: Autism in Context that explores the economic, legal, educational, and medical implications of autism spectrum disorders.

Alyssa Levitt poses for a photo with another student, wearing large, colorful glasses. In the photo, Alyssa punches her hand in the air in excitement.
2020 Best Buddies Prom at Bridgestone Arena.

After investigating my Immersion options for a few months, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to promote healthy, independent living for people with disabilities. I first reached out to Jenny Gustafson, an instructor for Next Steps at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, a 4-year inclusive higher education program committed to providing students with intellectual disabilities a post-secondary education in academics, social and career development, and independent living. Next we had a meeting where we crafted a proposal that includes creating lesson plans and projects for CCS 102: Health and Wellness, a course first-year students must complete in the Next Steps Program. I plan to create new units on advocating for oneself at the doctor’s office and following proper medicine and kitchen safety protocols. I also intend to meet with Vanderbilt’s Recreation and Wellness Center to discuss holding modified exercise classes as part of the CCS course as well as start a sports recreation team composed of Best Buddies members.

Once my proposal was crafted, I met with the Office of Immersion Resources to identify an appropriate faculty advisor to sponsor my project. Alissa McKinnon, an Immersion program coordinator, put me in touch with Dr. Erik Carter, a research professor of special education at Peabody College who studies the post-secondary inclusion and peer relationships of people with disabilities. Dr. Carter has agreed to sponsor my project, and I am in the process of collaborating with Jenny to create lesson plans.

Immersion has empowered me to dive deeper into my passion and collaborate with faculty from Peabody to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. I am so excited to have the opportunity to work with faculty from a different college than my home college, College of Arts and Science. When crafting your Immersion proposal, do not be afraid to reach out to new professors, contacts, and the Office of Immersion Resources to create your own original project.

Alyssa Levitt, Class of 2022
Medicine, Health, and Society

Alyssa Levitt is from Marietta, GA. She is majoring in MHS with a minor in Chemistry. In addition to serving as president of Best Buddies, Alyssa is an undergraduate research intern for the Nobis Lab that investigates methods to mitigate epilepsy complications. In her free time, Alyssa enjoys running, hiking, and horseback riding.