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Life experiences, higher education fueling the future of Malikai Bass

Contributed • Jul 30, 2018 at 9:37 AM

As a child, Malikai Bass was fascinated by museums, but quickly discovered access was limited.

“I love museums and the problem is they aren’t always easy to go to when you’re on the (autism) spectrum,” Bass said. “My longtime goal is to work in museum education, and more specifically, I want to make museums more accessible for autistic kids.”

A firm foundation in higher education, combined with firsthand experience, is bringing Bass closer to his career goals. The junior education major is spending the summer months diving into research articles and studying for the GRE as a pre-research intern in the McNair Program, which prepares disadvantaged college students for pursuit of graduate and eventually doctoral degrees.

“I know that autistic kids like me, we don’t go to graduate school very often and we are very underrepresented in science,” Bass said. “I think one way I could help other autistic kids is to improve science education for them.”

Bass aspires to address the sensory challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum, but as a first-generation college student, he hasn’t always known how to get there. The McNair Program is providing the guidance Bass needs.

Each morning, Bass and fellow interns attend classes focusing on the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE, and in the afternoons, they learn about research methodology and graduate school admissions. McNair interns are expected to read at least nine articles per week from peer-reviewed journals.

Bass often analyzes journal articles while swaying in a hammock beneath two trees.

“I’m learning what type of research has already been done and things I know from my own experiences,” Bass said. “I can see whether or not those things have been implemented. There hasn’t been a lot of research on creating actual content that’s more accessible.”

Noticing a lack of research, Bass is developing a research proposal to implement an informal science education program for autistic children through a community partnership. He hopes to measure improved language and communication skills, much like he’s observed while volunteering with the Power of Performing (POP) Arts program for children and adults of all ability types.

In fact, educating others is a major part of Bass’ college experience. He will co-direct POP Arts this fall and was recently chosen to participate in the Vanderbilt Consortium Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program, an opportunity normally not available to undergraduates. He also participates in online support groups to help parents understand the behavior of children on the autism spectrum and volunteers on the leadership board for ETSU’s Neurodiversity Club, which aims to educate the campus community about autism and other neurological conditions.

When Bass was searching for the perfect college where he could get involved in student life, it was the location, academic offerings and environment that lured Bass to ETSU from Chattanooga.

“I wanted to be a little farther away from my family and have a little bit of adventure,” he said. “I had heard really good things about the campus community being very accepting and having a good rating for campus pride. It seemed like it had the things I needed to come to school.”

Once Bass finishes the summer portion of the McNair Program, he will apply for the yearlong research-intensive internship to further develop his research project and prepare for graduate school. He will also complete a senior honors thesis to meet the requirements of the Honors-in-Discipline Scholars Program in English.

Yet another opportunity to prepare for graduate-level learning.

“One of the big benefits of the program is all the resources that are available,” he said. “The great thing about the McNair Program is you get introduced to mentors and researchers who can help you get where you want to go.”

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