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Jerome Max “Bruzzy” Westheimer Jr. ('65)
In 2022, the UNT Neurodiversity Training Program received funding from UNT alumnus and Oklahoma businessman Jerome Max “Bruzzy” Westheimer Jr. ('65). The funds will support the development and implementation of comprehensive training modules to equip faculty and staff with the knowledge and techniques to facilitate successful interactions with neurodivergent students.
Neurodiversity refers to natural variations in the wiring of the human brain. These range from being a single variation in thinking or actions to more involved neurological diversity, usually warranting a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome and/or learning differences such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, according to the UNT Neurodiversity Initiative website.
Lauren Mathews, a clinical associate professor in the UNT College of Health and Public Service’s Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology department, expressed deep thanks for Westheimer’s support.
“After we talked, I could tell that he was passionate and caring,” she says. “We’re just so grateful he wanted to learn more and support the work we’re doing.”
Westheimer has a long history of giving to UNT, and was bestowed the 2019 Wings of Eagles Presidential Award in honor of his transformative impact on campus.
Westheimer is a member of the UNT Diamond Eagles Society, through which members help fund projects that positively impact the UNT campus community. He first learned about the Neurodiversity Initiative in November 2021, when it was one of the projects vying for funding from the Diamond Eagles Society.
While another project was selected for funding, Westheimer remained interested in supporting the neurodiversity training program.
“Once you understand it, you better understand that all of us need to work together to help them,” Westheimer says. “This is something that really needs to be done because it’s going to benefit so many people, and that’s what we’re after: benefitting people.”
The first module for the training program will begin filming in April, with Westheimer taking part in an introductory segment.
Mathews and her colleagues have worked tirelessly for years to expand efforts at UNT to serve the neurodivergent community, including the development of Neurodiversity Training 101 and UNT ENGAGE, an acronym that stands for Embracing Neurodiverse Groups in Academics and Gainful Employment.
ENGAGE serves neurodivergent students enrolled at UNT with reaching their academic and vocational goals through person-centered planning and intensive individualized services, according to their website. In 2019, UNT ENGAGE received funding from the Texas Workforce Commission, which enabled the program to expand.
There have been several forward strides for the Neurodiversity Network in recent years, and Mathews is happy to see the network expanding and better serving the community.
“We want to help them be successful—however they define successful,” Mathews says. “Whether that’s the faculty successfully teaching or the students making it to graduation. That’s what we’re here to help them accomplish.”
Learn more about the broader Neurodiversity Network at UNT.