The intern returns to help the organization that helped him

Giovanni Claudio, a student at UWM, says his internship with the Nonprof-IT program was invaluable, giving him insight into what working life will be like and giving him the chance to develop leadership skills. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

Giovanni Claudio’s internship allowed him to come full circle.

Claudio, who graduated from UWM in the summer of 2022 with his Bachelor’s degree in Information Science and Technology, chose an internship in the fall of 2021 as part of the Nonprof-IT program.

The School of Information Studies set up the program to give students the opportunity to work with non-profit organizations, which could benefit from their expertise in web design and social media.

Claudio selected Islands of Brilliance, an organization that works with autistic or neurodiverse people (a more general term referring to atypical thought or behavior patterns). He is an alumnus of the program and they were happy to welcome him back in the Fall 2021 semester.

“We are so proud of him and what he has accomplished,” said Mark Fairbanks, co-founder and executive director of Islands or Brilliance. Claudio and his team helped the organization update its website, improve search engine optimization and fine-tune the use of social media.

“He developed great leadership and collaboration skills,” Fairbanks said. “We were all impressed.”

Test your skills in the real world

Claudio, in turn, was happy to be able to test his skills in a real environment. (He did another Nonprof-IT internship in the spring of 2022.)

“It was a window into real-life computing (information technology),” Claudio said. “It was my first time as a team leader.”

He was interested in computers and computer games while growing up, Claudio said. “I love working with computers.”

While some students with autism experience bullying and teasing, he hasn’t experienced it personally, he said. But he enjoyed the experience of taking an art and design course at Islands of Brilliance. “For neurodivergent people, it helps with education and socialization and gives them the opportunity to be themselves.”

A welcoming atmosphere

At UWM, he found a welcoming atmosphere and a group of friends. He shared some of his experiences in a video in the fall of 2021 on future graduates.

College gave him the chance to experience and learn more about the Milwaukee community and helped him academically and socially, Claudio said. He is a member of the autism spectrum social group.

“It gave me a social base and an opportunity to meet people who are like me,” he said. Claudio is also active in the organization DREAM (Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring).

He explores opportunities in information technology after graduation. “I’m excited to go out alone.”

It’s a field with a lot of opportunity for people like him who are neurodiverse, Claudio said. He is quick to point out that while many see IT as just writing code or building websites, careers also involve project management and collaboration skills – similar to what he learned in Nonprof. -IT.

Give the example

Fairbanks said Claudio is an example of what Islands of Brilliance wants to encourage. The emphasis on project-based learning helps children and young adults with autism develop their own ideas and creativity. The organization focuses on abilities, not disabilities, he said.

Fairbanks and his wife, Margaret, founded the islands of brilliance after their son Harry was diagnosed with autism at age 3. Their doctor told them not to expect much from him and that college was out of the question. Harry graduated from UWM in 2020.

Islands of Brilliance is part of a UWM research project, funded by a $149,487 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The research, led by Celeste Campos-Castillo, associate professor of sociology, and Nathaniel Stern, professor of art and design and mechanical engineering, is in partnership with the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center at ABLE (Autism Brilliance Lab for Entrepreneurship) . The work examines how creativity in art and design can help prepare people with autism for the workforce, and how the workforce can prepare neurotypical work environments for people living with the autism.

Virginia S. Braud