A St. Cloud State University alumna and her husband have made a gift that will benefit not just SCSU, but the regional community as well.
The Linda ’74 and Richard Offerdahl Autism Discovery Center was publicly announced April 26 inside St. Cloud State University’s Brown Hall. The Autism Discovery Center aims to teach clinicians of all levels and backgrounds proper treatments for clients and their families in central Minnesota and beyond. Students of Applied Behavior Analysis at SCSU will be involved in all services provided at the Center, supervised by doctoral-level and nationally certified faculty. Students will receive hands-on training in running sessions, developing programs, collecting data, evaluating progress, meeting with families and training other student clinicians.
“Most importantly, the OADC is here for families and autistic children,” said Dr. Odessa Luna, Assistant Professor of Applied Behavior Analysis at SCSU. “The OADC will be a source of relief for families in the St. Cloud area who have been waiting desperately for services. With time, the OADC will build through its graduates more service opportunities for autistic children in the region and the state, extending its reach well beyond its walls.”
Linda, who earned her bachelor’s in elementary education from St. Cloud State, and Richard Offerdahl said they have “worked to make the world a better place” throughout their lives, and their $1 million gift to St. Cloud State University to establish the Autism Discovery Center was made with that in mind. In their visits to SCSU, they were impressed with the Applied Behavior Analysis program and said they have long felt that more resources needed to be provided to those on the autism spectrum.
“Both of us, from the education we did receive, have been able to accomplish much within our lives,” the Offerdahls said. “We’re grateful that such an autism center could live in St. Cloud where it could reach outstate Minnesota in particular.”
Dr. Shonda Craft, Dean of the College of Health and Wellness Professions at SCSU, said an autism clinic has been a dream for the Applied Behavior Analysis department for years.
“Our faculty are committed to innovation, evidence-based practice, collaboration and curiosity. Together these are the building blocks of discovery,” she said. “Our faculty will be discovering how best to serve children with autism and their families. Our students will be discovering who they are as clinicians, as researchers, as educators and as partners. The children and families who will utilize our center will discover how to continue building upon their strengths and find new ways to support their goals.”
According to Dr. Robbyn Wacker, President of St. Cloud State, the Center aligns with SCSU’s It’s Time framework and highlights the importance of individualized attention to students and how it can be critical to their success — whether they’re children with autism receiving services to help them live their lives to the fullest extent, or St. Cloud State students being mentored and educated by highly qualified teacher-scholars dedicated to helping them achieve their potential.
“There is a great need in our region for the services that the Center will provide and a growing need for more responsible, caring practitioners and leaders in this field,” President Wacker said. “The work students complete in the Center will give them real-world experience in applying what they learn in the classroom. Their hands-on experience at the Center will prepare them to develop respect for the tremendous effect their work will have on the children and families they come in contact with.”
The Linda ’74 and Richard Offerdahl Autism Discovery Center is comprised of multiple session and observation rooms, reception and waiting areas, a telehealth area, kitchen, conference room, director’s office and discovery den. The handicap-accessible bathroom across from the Autism Discovery Center entrance has been outfitted with an adult-size changing area. The observation rooms make it possible for instructors to supervise their students, and allow parents or caregivers to monitor their children or clients in sessions. The discovery den is outfitted with a rock-climbing wall, trampolines, balance bar and other activities for visitors to use, all on top of a rubber floor. All of the rooms within the center have flexibility in that the furniture and decor in each room can be easily modified to make each client or visitor comfortable and provide them with privacy. The Autism Discovery Center also features paintings made by artists living with autism from around the world. Visitors to the Center can learn more about the artists by scanning the QR codes near their paintings.
“In the classroom, in business settings, raising children, throughout life — we have all encountered people who could have benefited from the kind of services that will be found in the Offerdahl Autism Center,” the Offerdahls said. “In much the same way as people with physical disabilities have been accommodated, St. Cloud State University is at the forefront of efforts to accommodate and enable people with communication disabilities to maximize their capabilities and be accepted in the world.”
Nic Katona, Vice President for Advancement & Alumni Engagement, said the Autism Discovery Center will have lasting effects for SCSU, and supports important teaching and research priorities moving forward.
“The Offerdahls’ generous gift to St. Cloud State made the Autism Discovery Center a reality, and is a wonderful example of the impact philanthropy has at SCSU and on our community,” he said.
Those interested in supporting St. Cloud State can click here or call 320-308-3984 to learn more.