Vanderbilt University has announced a $10 million gift from alumna Jennifer R. Frist ('93) and her husband, William R. Frist, to endow a new center in its School of Engineering focused on supporting and developing the neurodiverse talents of individuals with autism.
The Frist Center for Autism and Innovation will leverage academic research, commercial research and development, and business innovation to better understand the capabilities of individuals with autism and enhance the twenty-first-century workforce through the engagement of autistic talent. To that end, Vanderbilt engineers, scientists, and business scholars, together with autism experts in the clinical and vocational domains, will work with local employers and national autism organizations to invent and commercialize new technologies, advance understanding of neurodiverse capabilities related to employment, and disseminate a community-based approach to improving quality of life for individuals with autism while enhancing the bottom line for businesses.
"By focusing on people's abilities — not disabilities — this center can empower those on the autism spectrum to reach their full potential," said Jennifer Frist, whose teenage son was diagnosed with autism. "Their skills are well-suited for a number of important jobs, especially in a future driven by technology."
"These children have extraordinary abilities, but too often families worry about their future independence and employment," said Billy Frist. "We believe the work of this center can help change that course for the better."