USM honors advocate for students with disabilities

By Kyle Hobstetter on August 3, 2018

Disability Support Services Director Susan Willemin receives University System of Maryland's Board of Regents Staff Award

Director of Disability Support Services Susan Willeman
Towson University's Director of Disability Support Services, Susan Willemin was honored with the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents Staff Award.

Susan Willemin had two reasons to celebrate last month: July marked her 20th year at Towson University, and the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents recognized her for her efforts on behalf of students with disabilities.

The Board of Regents Staff Award is the highest honor bestowed upon exempt and nonexempt staff at USM institutions. The awards are based on the recipients’ work within their institutions, communities and the surrounding environment.

Willemin, who directs TU’s Disability Support Services (DSS), was the first USM staff member to be honored in the Inclusion, Multiculturalism and Social Justice category.

“The award is an affirmation that our work—both my work and the work of the entire DSS staff—is highly worthwhile and appreciated,” Willemin said. 

“Creating a more diverse and inclusive campus is one of President Kim Schatzel’s priorities,” she added. “It has been very gratifying to work at TU during a time of such positive growth and change.

 “To me, an award in the category of Inclusion, Multiculturalism and Social Justice is a recognition that students with disabilities are an integral part of the campus community.”

Willemin has spent her entire 20 years at Towson University with DSS — initially as a learning disabilities specialist and later as director, a post she has held for 12 years.

During her tenure the number of students with disabilities at TU has grown from approximately 200 to 1,800, while the number of DSS staff has grown from three to 10.

Willemin said the educational environment has become more welcoming and inclusive to students with disabilities, particularly in best practices such as universal design for learning (UDL), which DSS, faculty and the Office for Academic Innovation are promoting. 

She describes UDL as “a framework for designing learning environments that provides all individuals an equal opportunity to learn, which fosters diversity.”   

Another key to the growth of DSS has been the remodeling of the Testing Services Center, which offers state-of-the-art equipment to help support students during exams and finals. 

“Our Testing Services Center is considered a model.” Willemin said, noting that DSS office staff from throughout the state have visited it.

DSS partnerships include working with TU’s Office of Technology Services, as well as with other USM institutions, to facilitate electronic accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

“Whereas physical accessibility was a major challenge in the past, electronic accessibility is the major challenge today,” she said.

Willemin is most impressed with the willingness of TU faculty and staff to work collaboratively with DSS on behalf of students with disabilities. “It’s the best support my staff and I have received,” she said.

Susan Willemin was one of eight USM staff members to be honored this year. She will receive her award during the Board of Regents’ September meeting.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: Diverse and Inclusive Campus.