Alumni Spotlight

Virtues and Values Lead Alumnus to Career in Special Education

Alumnus finds calling through supporting students impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder

Influenced by the mission of Oakland University, HDCS alumnus Brent Fragnoli is putting those values into action through his work with individuals impacted by autism at Marshall University in West Virginia. (Photo Credit: James Silvestri)

icon of a calendarMarch 5, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Trevor Tyle

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Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has increased by 178%, and with it comes a heightening demand for individuals to work with those impacted by ASD. For Oakland University alumnus Brent Fragnoli, that need was crucial in his decision to pursue both a Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership (MAHEL) and a Graduate Certificate in ASD Multiple Disciplines. 

“The goals and visions of the University and SEHS resonated with what I wanted to achieve in my career,” Fragnoli said. “OU simply just made sense.”

Like many college students, though, Fragnoli’s intended career path was not so cut-and-dried. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from Albion College and interning in pastoral care at a nursing home, Fragnoli had plans to enroll in seminary and become a military chaplain. 

However, he ultimately had a change of heart, applying to OU’s MAHEL program and pursuing a career that focused on working with individuals impacted by ASD.

“The simplest answer to describing my vocational calling to my ‘job area’ is that it is built on the premise of continuing to build upon my experiences to better serve others,” he said.

Upon being accepted, he was hired by Dr. Chaturi Edrisinha as a graduate assistant in the Center for Autism Research Division, which he calls “the single most impactful event in [his] career so far.”

During Fragnoli’s time at OU, he and Edrisinha developed a curriculum for OU’s proposed Ph.D. program in ASD education and completed a research study measuring the effectiveness of recreational activities on children with ASD. 

“When Brent interviewed, I knew immediately that it would be a successful working relationship, mostly because he truly embodies OU’s call — ‘Seguir Virtue e Canoscenza,’ or ‘seek virtue and knowledge,’” Edrisinha said. “When you work with people with disabilities — a vulnerable population — if you don’t have virtue, then I believe no amount of knowledge can recompense. Brent already had virtue, but it was my privilege to help him acquire knowledge.”

Fragnoli was also involved with OU’s Genius-to-Genius (G2G) program, a peer-based mentorship initiative spearheaded by Edrisinha that pairs students with consultants to offer support in transitioning to college as well as help in the development of social skills and professional opportunities. Among his proudest accomplishments is his experience taking one of his G2G students to the DMV for his driver’s license after providing him with individualized driver’s ed training for a year-and-a-half.

“Seeing the pride he had after passing his road test was incredible,” Fragnoli said.

After graduating in 2018, Fragnoli was hired as a student support specialist for the West Virginia Autism Training Center College Program at Marshall University, where he is currently employed. In his current position, he provides support to students with ASD diagnoses in academic, social and independent living skills. Additionally, he provides student advocacy services and support to the campus community through Autism Allies presentations.

“The majority of my responsibilities are centered upon the development of individualized behavioral supports based on student need, and working with my team of graduate assistants on the implementation of those supports,” he said.

Since joining Marshall University two years ago, Fragnoli said the students he has worked with have achieved a higher GPA than the average GPA of the program itself, with an overall average of 3.14. Additionally, Fragnoli has collaborated with a group of students to found “Man Lyfe,” a social skills group for male students within the program to discuss emotional and physical health. 

Fragnoli has retrospectively credited his time at OU for “sharpening [his] sense of perseverance” and making his career goals a possibility. 

“Achieving a lasting impact on the world and others around me through education is the entirety of my professional goals,” he said, “and OU provided me the opportunity to achieve that.”

For additional information on the special education programs available at OU, visit

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