The Spur

Ekstrom shines a light for Disability Services

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Most students here at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) may not know who Pam Ekstrom is, what she does or how she impacts this university. To the people that do know her, she has an invaluable impact on their life.

Ekstrom is the Director of Disability Services at SMSU and has held that position for 20 years. Ekstrom’s interest in having a job for Disability Services grew slowly as an undergraduate, and the itch for the position was always something she had had. “The individuals who ran the program at that time got me involved in work study, and I just kind of hung around,” Ekstrom said.

Meryl Lucchesi-Freyberg is the new Assistant Director of Disability Services, and she brings a variety of helpful skills and talents to the Disability Services program, but according to Ekstrom, the biggest tool she has in her belt is her experience in the classroom. “Meryl has her degree in English, and one of the things she brought here was that she worked with IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs) on a different level and dealt with the IEP’s on a personal level,” Ekstrom said. Ekstrom notes her experience is valuable on many fronts.

Outside Ekstrom’s office is the saying that “not every disability is visible.” To her, it is important to accommodate to every single person, no matter what is needed. “The definition of a disability is a factor that affects a major life activity,” Ekstrom said. “We need to look at the documentation and see what we can do to lessen the impact of the disability.”

The mental end of the spectrum is huge for Ekstrom and Disability Services, and she mentioned this in great detail as a possible area of growth for the program. “Autism and mental health issues have increased over the years, and I think if we could have someone on campus that has a background in those two areas, that would be helpful,” Ekstrom said. “We provide what we can, however.”

As is expected with the natural course of “father time,” as far as where she sees the program down the road, Ekstrom smiled. “I would love to be retired in five years,” she said. “I believe in universal design, and if we can teach in a way that encompasses all learning styles, disability services could go away,” Ekstrom said, stressing the need to be able to accommodate all students’ disabilities.

Steve France, who is one of Ekstrom’s biggest mentors, always use to tell her: “Wouldn’t it be nice if you did not have a job one day because everything was already done,” which is possibly a future forecast for this program at SMSU.

In her 20 years as Director of Disability Services at SMSU, Ekstrom says one annual event always tugs at her heart strings—graduation.

“I have been involved in Commencement since I started here, and I make sure that a family member of a student graduating has an accessible seat, if necessary,” Ekstrom said. “The most precious moment is taking those students who never thought they would make it that far and help them in getting ready for graduation…Seeing the families’ reactions are just priceless.”

From the first day on campus to a student crossing the stage at graduation, Ekstrom is always personable, respectful and willing to help.

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Ekstrom shines a light for Disability Services