UNC sophomore Amrutha Nandam found a community in high school that acknowledged each other’s differences as something to be proud of.
So when she came to college with her own accessibility needs, she wanted to bring that strong and inclusive community to UNC.
Nandam, who studies public policy and human and organizational leadership and development, created Special Needs Special People — a Campus Y social venture — to help spread awareness about different accessibility needs in the campus community.
“Through SNSP, I hope to normalize conversations about accessibility differences in schools to foster that awareness and give them the tools to build a more inclusive society,” Nandam said.
After creating the organization in high school, Nandam grew it at UNC through her participation in CUBE, a Campus Y program that provides student entrepreneurs with the support and resources to help develop their social ventures.
CUBE Director Jaki Bonilla has known Nandam since she visited UNC’s campus in high school. Since then, Bonilla has seen Nandam grow and believes in the longevity of her vision.
“I met Amrutha when she came to visit campus,” Bonilla said in a statement. “She knew she wanted to design an organization that could have a positive impact on students’ life around the world. I know this is a project she is committed to for the entirety of her Carolina career and beyond.”
In the formation of this program, Nandam also reflected on her middle school experiences. Some of her peers bullied her and others simply because they were uninformed about special needs. Nandam attributes their harmful actions to disinformation, and through SNSP, she plans to bridge that information gap.
Melissa Carrier, director of the Office of Social Innovation, has served as a mentor for Nandam through CUBE for nearly a year. Carrier says that what makes Nandam stand out as a social entrepreneur is how dedicated she is to her mission.
“As an adviser and mentor, what I can clearly see is that she is capable of imagining a world where every child has the opportunity to learn about the power of differences and what it means to be kind, inclusive, respectful supportive and inquisitive, as she has the capability to make that happen,” Carrier said.
At UNC, Nandam said she is thankful for mentors like Carrier and Bonilla, who are helping make it possible to grow SNSP and reach her dreams.
Nandam said that having difficult conversations about accessibility and inclusivity are vital to creating a more welcoming environment for all.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Nandam has spoken with elementary and middle school classrooms to educate them on special needs and on the different accessibility needs people may have.
Nandam said that in the future, she hopes to partner with school districts and teachers to make this type of education mainstream in the curriculum and implement accessibility into lesson plans. And ultimately, she hopes to help influence the creation of policies that make more inclusive education mandatory across school systems.
Nandam said the UNC community has been a great environment for her personal growth and is doing well at incorporating inclusivity and accessibility.
“The UNC community has been so inclusive," Nandam said. "And I don’t think there is a better place to learn and grow how to apply skills of leadership to SNSP."
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