By Dean Galiffa
Standing at the podium, looking out into the crowd of students, Patrick Viesti introduces himself to the onlooking pupils. All eyes are on him as he stands in the front of the DCCC Marple campus lecture hall on April 11.
“Good morning, everyone,” Viesti says. “I want to thank you for inviting me to talk about SAP’s ‘Autism at Work’ program and share my journey. To begin this story, I need to provide a background of who I am. [I have been] featured in several major video and written news publications. But, before all of that, at the age of three, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.”
Viesti is one of five who were selected to be a part of the Autism at Work Program at the Newtown Square campus of SAP, one of the world’s largest business software companies, where he currently manages company projects as an order execution manager.
Viesti has spoken at the United Nations in New York for World Autism Awareness Day. He was asked by Jose Velasco, head of SAP’s Autism at Work Program in North America, to be interviewed by news television channels Al-Jazeera America and CBS This Morning.
The ARC of Philadelphia, SAP’s local implementation partner with the Autism at Work Program, asked Viesti to visit Capitol Hill and speak to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) about how colleges and local businesses can form partnerships to help those on the autism spectrum better integrate into the workforce after graduation.
After receiving DCCC’s 2017 Rising Star award for the 50th anniversary last September, Viesti recently visited the Marple campus to discuss his experiences as a student with Asperger’s.
“It’s hard to believe, but I, too, sat in the very same seats you are now,” Viesti says, looking out into the lecture hall. There was a murmur from the audience as students and teachers chuckled.
“Taking my first steps towards higher education was something I had been preparing for since I graduated from Hill Top Preparatory School,” Viesti says. “My experiences with DCCC were some of the best at challenging me to become a better writer, a better critical thinker, and a better person.”
After attending Coeburn Elementary School in Rosemont, Pa., Viesti’s parents found it best for him to attend specialized education for both middle and high school.
Hill Top Preparatory School is a grade fifth through twelve preparatory day school for students with learning disabilities.
Viesti attended the school for seven years. After graduating in 2005, he attended DCCC where he received an associate degree in communications.
In 2008, Viesti transferred to West Chester University where he graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2011.
After graduating, Viesti had difficulty finding a job due to a combination of the recession and his Asperger syndrome. However, in May 2013, a family friend referred Viesti to a CNN news report on SAP’s Autism at Work inAfter applying for the program, Viesti was contacted by ARC of Philadelphia in late February 2014 to be interviewed.
Walking toward the audience, Viesti addresses the students and faculty with nothing between them. Hands crossed over his tie, he stands only feet away from the front row.
“The interview process was nothing like I expected,” Viesti says, abandoning his scripted speech. “They actually really wanted to get to know me on a personal level.”
Audience members smile as they listen to Viesti share why he thinks it is important for colleges to support students with autism.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of colleges such as DCCC forming partnerships with local businesses that will give students on the spectrum a better, stronger chance at being hired after graduation,” Viesti said.
Now, Viesti speaks on behalf of his personal experiences at SAP when other companies interested in Autism at Work visit. He helps inform and equip their administrators to implement the program at their own company.
Viesti hopes that both students on the spectrum and otherwise will continue to persevere and use their available resources.
“When I was looking for work, there were times that I thought ‘what more can I do?’” Viesti said. “There will always be that one person that will say ‘I want to hire you.’ You have to keep going, you have to keep pushing. Even beyond graduation, continue to keep in contact with people who can help you. I would not have graduated without that support.”
Contact Dean Galiffa at firstname.lastname@example.org