Bluffton University's small size and Christian atmosphere were among the selling points that brought Marcus Meyers to campus as a transfer student in fall 2010.
But after arriving, the Holland, Ohio, resident also saw something else, not obvious to most students, that he says made his two years at Bluffton a life-changing experience.
"It's the people who see beyond the wheelchair," says Meyers, who has been in one most of his life due to congenital cerebral palsy. Those people--and "there's a whole slew of them," he points out--included Jacqui Slinger and her staff at the university's Learning Resource Center, plus fellow students who served as his personal care assistants.
They helped give him the option of using stairs, as well as his chair, on campus, he explains. And at Bluffton's commencement ceremony on May 6, Meyers surprised family and friends by walking up a ramp to the stage--with the aid of a walker and assistant Evan Skilliter--to receive his bachelor's degree in social work.
"I feel that people only see the wheelchair sometimes, or the things I can't do," he says. But at Bluffton, he adds, he found people who cared and who treated him as an equal. Calling the university "very accepting," he says faculty, staff and students "were very willing to help me, but only when I needed it."
Meyers came to Bluffton as a social work major for particularly personal reasons. "I like helping people, and cerebral palsy gives me the privilege of interacting with social workers a lot," he notes. "They have done so much to get me where I am today, that I want to give back to the profession."
He got a small taste of it during a three-week, cross-cultural experience in Chicago with a Bluffton contingent this spring. As part of a short internship at Weiss Memorial Hospital, Meyers shadowed a social worker who coordinated patient care with physicians and participated in an intake interview. In intake interviews, social workers talk to hospital patients about their care once they go home so appropriate services can be arranged.
The Chicago experience fulfilled a requirement that all Bluffton students receive cross-cultural exposure, whether through travel to specified domestic or foreign sites--the option chosen by most students--or by taking a foreign language.
This summer, Meyers is serving a 12-week internship at the United Way of Greater Toledo, where he is learning to field calls to its 2-1-1 service. The non-emergency, information and referral service connects callers with needed social services.
Meyers hopes the internship may also be a step toward "something I've always wanted to do"--being a 9-1-1 dispatcher. He would also be interested in working at St. Luke's Hospital, where he has already been a seasonal volunteer for nine years and feels "supported for what I can do."
In the meantime, though, he will continue his social work study as a master's degree student at the University of Toledo.
The university is only about 15 minutes from his home, "but it's very important for me to stay on campus," says Meyers, who already has one personal care assistant lined up in Kelly Barnes, also a 2012 Bluffton graduate from Toledo. "I liked the camaraderie in the dorm at Bluffton, and I like to show people that just because I have a disability doesn't mean I can't have an education just like anybody else."
"I am a very strong person as far as advocating for myself."