On June 1, the EAGLES Program welcomed Stephanie Mendez Willis as its Independent Living Coordinator. Willis, who is originally from Miami, Florida, completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. She has more than nine years of experience as a Speech-Language Pathologist serving clients in a wide variety of settings. This includes early intervention services, school-aged children, transition students, acute care, and long-term rehabilitation.
For the past four years, Willis has worked in the Muscogee County School District as a Speech-Language Pathologist at Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy and Jordan Vocational High School. Between both schools, she served in the functional classrooms, the Autism Wing, and the Ready to Work Transition Program. When working with her students, she begins by assessing their unique needs to guide the individualized supports most beneficial for them to achieve their goals.
A fun fact Stephanie likes to share is that she Cuban American, speaks fluent Spanish, and loves to cook Cuban food.
She and her husband Paul have two children, Emma Katherine (4) and Paul Beckett (1). They believe in giving back to the Auburn-Opelika community through philanthropic service in addition to serving others through their career paths. Paul serves as the Board President of Storybook Farms and Stephanie served on the Board of the Junior League of Lee County as Immediate Past President this past year.
“My goal with the EAGLES Program is to enhance the current Independent Living program and expand the on-campus and off-campus living structure,” she said. “Such enhancements will provide more meaningful experiences and lessons for students as they develop their independent living skills through teaching activities of daily living and social skills directly in the natural environment.”
Willis defines independent living as the ability for an individual to live independently and productively in the community, with minimal or no assistance from another person.
“My background as a Speech-Language Pathologist allows me to incorporate social skills into the independent living curriculum,” she explained. “These skills include using correct body language, using appropriate language, and using empathy to understand the world from someone else’s point of view.”
“I am most excited about the existing partnership AU Housing and EAGLES for both on-campus living and off-campus housing. The EAGLES mission and vision align perfectly with my personal philosophy of how to prepare people for life after school through practical experiences that promote the generalization of skills. The program provides a unique experience for both the staff and the EAGLES students as it allows us to teach skills in the classroom and immediately put those skills into practice in a real-world setting while providing corrective feedback, scaffolded supports, and repetition.”
Willis’s goal is to help each student acquire the skill set needed to transition to successfully living as independently as possible. This will be accomplished through activities of daily living, medical autonomy, and personal/social relationships.
“I am eager to join the dynamic team of students, coordinators, graduate assistants, student workers, WINGS peer mentors, campus partners, and families to continue to help our students and the program soar!”