When the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center opened at the University of Arizona in 1980, people with learning disabilities were still being told they could never make it through college.
Eleanor Harner, SALT’s visionary first leader, knew better. Two decades later, her work would not only help a young Shaun Brown ’05 ’09 tackle his dyslexia and short-term memory issues but also lead him to a successful career with one of Arizona’s largest school districts.
Harner was a learning diagnostician whose campus counseling work put her face to face with the struggles and resolve of students like Brown. “These are bright people who just needed to be taught strategies and compensations to adjust for the weaknesses we all have,” she said in a 2001 UANews story. “Once they were given that opportunity, they showed their abilities by focusing on their strengths and moving forward.”
Harner retired from the university in 1993 and passed away in 2013, but her vision and her dedication to helping students laid the groundwork for the SALT Center’s growth and success. In 2001, the center moved from a cramped basement in Old Main to a new 16,000-square-foot home of its own.
And it has continued to expand its reach, incorporating the latest technology — such as connected wall monitors and a presenter screen — and helping nearly 700 students each year who learn differently.
SALT is also earning an international reputation.
“The SALT Center is one of the oldest and best-known academic support programs in the world specifically designed for college students with learning and attention differences,” says Executive Director Gabrielle Miller. “Our mission is not only to help students graduate but also to help them become resilient and engaged lifelong learners who continuously strive to make a positive impact in a rapidly changing world.”
At SALT, students are assigned an adviser who helps organize class schedules, sets study routines and coordinates with professors to provide extra testing time. For Shaun Brown, this regimen was a career-saver. Despite his learning challenges, he was determined to earn a college degree. A staffer at SALT suggested he get help at the center.
“At the time, I had no idea about the SALT Center,” he says. “I was in my mid-20s. I had a focus, but I just needed support to accomplish my goals.”
Soon he was meeting each week with an adviser, and together they pored over class schedules and syllabuses, finding blocks of time when he could study.
“She taught me how to use my planning time, how to be organized with materials, and how to study,” Brown says.
Brown also learned how to prepare for tests, often using flash cards. “It took me a little while to really grasp the concepts. But once I got them down for the test, it was no problem.”
Brown went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in geography with a minor in Africana studies, then a master’s degree in planning, real estate and urban development. Today, he is a district planner with Tucson Unified School District and sees a management information systems Ph.D. on the horizon.
As a member of the SALT Center’s Alumni Board, he also speaks to student groups about the help he received.
“In high school, a counselor told me I could never go to college because of my disability,” he says. “So, I tell these kids, ‘Don’t allow anybody to tell you what to be in life. Prove my counselor wrong.’”