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Autistic students focus of new Calhoun scholarship - meet the woman who helped develop the award

President and founder of Huntsville Autistic Adults creates scholarship for autistic adults attending Calhoun Community College.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — College can be difficult enough for any student, but when you're on the autism spectrum, the environment -- not to mention the scholarship opportunities -- can be even more limiting. Enter Calhoun Community College alum Holly Foshee, who worked with the college's foundation team to create a new annual scholarship intended for those on the spectrum.

“Being autistic almost crippled me from living a regular life,” recalled Foshee. “I never thought I was excelling as a normal human being until my diagnosis.

Foshee is also the founder and president of Huntsville Autistic Adults. "We are for autistic people by autistic people," she said. "We think that anything that has to do with autistic people should have autistic input. What we do is educate in the North Alabama and South Tennessee area about autism as it relates to adults: workplace accommodations, college accommodations, autistic culture."

Those are things Foshee wished she had while she was in school while looking for scholarships and a more accessible learning environment.

"I worked at fast food places or grocery stores trying to make enough money to go through school, so I could never take a full class load," she said. "I could never get a scholarship because there's always a minimum enrollment requirement for scholarships."

Learn more about this and other types of 'foundation' scholarships >>

Her college journey at Calhoun began in the spring of 1994 when she enrolled in a few classes, she later went on to Athens State to receive her Bachelor's in computer science. After another tenure at Calhoun in 2004, she later transferred to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) where she received both a Bachelor's and Master's in mechanical engineering from UAH. 

It wasn't until then, in 2017, she was formally diagnosed with autism. "I felt relief and I felt grief for the life lost," she said of the diagnosis. "All that I could have had if someone had just paid attention..."

With a past history of struggling with standardized tests in high school, she remembered how patient the instructors were with her at Calhoun, making the transition into college testing somewhat a breeze. It was her lasting memory about her time at her first school which led her to developing the scholarship with Calhoun leadership.

"Communication is different between neurotypical people and neurodiverse people. So I wanted to create a scholarship to help them with that without having to meet all of these crazy criteria."

The $1,000 scholarship is focused on sophomores, has no grade-point average (GPA) requirement and no minimum course load requirement.

"The reason we made this not for freshmen but for sophomores, is because that is typically when the burnout sets in, that's when a lot of autistic people can't handle it anymore," Foshee said.

The community is encouraged to contribute to the scholarship, which you can do online by visiting www.calhoun.edu/give. You can also call the Calhoun College Foundation at 256-713-4823 with any questions about the scholarship.

"This could be the thing that gets them through and gets that Associate's degree," said Foshee. "And with that, that is a stepping stone they can use to get their Bachelor's."

The Huntsville Autistic Adults Scholarship will be presented annually and it's split between the fall and spring semesters. Right now one class costs an average of $508 not including other fees.

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