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RCSJ Administrator Goes "Above and Beyond" to Help Students with Special Needs

Meredith Vicente and student at Commencement

​​Meredith Vicente, senior director of accessibility and student support, Rowan College of South Jersey, is all smiles with her niece Madison Woodman at the College's 3rd annual commencement ceremony.

​​As we acquire a better understanding regarding the evolution of students’ learning styles, especially those with special needs, it is essential for them to receive the proper guidance to succeed. Meredith Vicente, Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ), senior director of Accessibility and Student Support, does an excellent job of taking the time to steer those students down the right path.

Vicente, who has been with the College for nearly 25 years, has dedicated her life to assisting students who are faced with learning barriers.

“What my goal is with every student that comes in, is to not let them be limited by their condition,” she said. “Just figure out where your strengths are and let other people know what you need and you’re going to be able to succeed in life.”

Vicente has plenty of experience working with students to provide them with the best learning opportunities. She started as a special education teacher in Franklin Township schools. Then after receiving her master’s degree in Student Personnel Services from Rowan University, Vicente became a guidance counselor.

In 2001, she got her foot in the door on the Cumberland campus, after being hired as an adjunct professor for developmental reading. Subsequently, she was promoted to assistant director of Project Assist, which according to Vicente, was a grant program that helped special needs students receive accommodations to enhance their learning experience.

“We had a lot of professional workshops for faculty and staff so that they knew how to work with students who learned a little bit differently,” she said. “It also provided different assistive technologies to help the students learn better.”

The grant ended in 2010, but that did not deter Vicente from continuing her mission to administer support to students. “We couldn’t go backwards,” she said. “We keep going above and beyond to try to take the students from their first step to graduation.”

Going above and beyond, according to Vicente, consists of meeting incoming students who self-identify as having learning barriers, helping them set up their classes, frequently contacting them throughout the semester to make sure they are staying on the path, and more.

“We’re really proactive in our outreach to them,” she said.

Another aspect of Vicente’s duties is to get those students and professors on the same page. “I send accommodation letters which basically tell the professor that these students have some sort of a condition that may cause them barriers and they​ tell them what accommodations they’re eligible for.”

Some of the accommodations students with special needs receive include having extra time to work on assignments, testing out of the class, tutoring, and using the Kurzweil, an assistive learning technology that helps students with conditions that affect their reading such as dyslexia, low vision, or even ADHD, Vicente said.

“It basically takes any text and then reads it out loud,” she explained. “It can also really help students who have English as a second language. I have had students who come forward and say, ‘I don’t really have a disability, but I do have a language barrier.’ Kurzweil has really helped some of the ESL students.”

Vicente acknowledged a few other factors that can have a detrimental impact on student learning. “I’m finding a huge uptick in students who are coming forward and identifying that they have chronic health and mental health conditions. There are also many students diagnosed with autism,” she revealed.

“A lot of students have periods of time when they are just not able to function. They actually lose time during the week because of their health conditions, or they’re depressed. Or, they’re having some type of flare up with their mental health. So, we’ve been giving students accommodations like flexibility with their attendance.”

While there are many obstacles that may arise when assisting students with special needs, Vicente, who also teaches a freshman seminar class at RCSJ, continues to be a positive light on their life journeys.

“It’s not just a transaction, we’re building relationships with the students. That’s why they succeed,” she said. “I take my time to make sure that instead of just passing them along and saying, ‘I can’t help you with that,’ I kind of take the student and make sure everything is handled. I really am a strong believer in being student centered.”

“They feel like they can let me know that they have a barrier. They know I’m going to listen to them, and they know I’m going to help them without judging them,” she continued. “My job is really about making sure they have access to [assistance] and if that means going above and beyond [we will] find a way for them to be successful.”

Vicente, an avid runner who has run marathons in New York City and Chicago, has enjoyed her time as an employee at RCSJ. “My favorite part about working at the College is helping students to find their path to success,” she said.

“When they walk through the door, they have all these barriers and challenges, and then they graduate. But I think the part that’s more important to me is I feel really good when I know that they’ve learned how to become strong self-advocates. That they’ve learned what tools they need to be successful, and I know that when they leave here, they’re going to be just fine.”

For more information about Rowan College of South Jersey’s disabilities or special needs support services, please visit​

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