Story submitted by Beacon College.
Beacon College, in Leesburg, Florida, is the nation’s first accredited four-year-degree-granting institution of higher education exclusively for students with learning disabilities. Founded in 1989 by a group of parents of teens with learning disabilities, the private nonprofit college has grown to serve 225 undergraduates—typically enrolling 18-year-old recent high school grads, or other traditional-age students who may have turned to Beacon after struggling at another college or university without programs for students with learning disabilities.
At age 53, Daniel Bordenkircher has the distinction of being Beacon’s only “non-traditional” student, but what Beacon faculty (many of them his own age) say is most significant about him is his exemplary focus on his studies and his dedication to assisting fellow students, which have made him a distinguished learner and an asset at Beacon College. As the member of his 2015 graduating class with the second-highest grade point average, Dan was selected to serve as this year’s salutatorian at Beacon’s recent spring commencement ceremonies.
Dan, who earned a BA degree with a double major in psychology and human services, traveled an unusual route to Beacon College. He has been a resident of Leesburg for more than 30 years, actually buying his home there in 1989, the same year Beacon College was established. While he was aware of the college and its mission with learning disabilities, he says he had never considered it as a possibility for his own education. Dan had struggled in school and attended college for several years in the 1980s, eventually earning an associate’s degree from Lake-Sumter Community College.
Dan had originally looked into Beacon College four years ago as a possible option for one of his children, who has learning disabilities. After talking with a then-new love interest—now Dan’s wife, Amanda— about his own educational struggles, Dan was encouraged to be evaluated for ADHD, and this provided a new explanation for the life and academic difficulties he had experienced, in his early years.
With his new diagnosis of adult ADHD and a renewed determination to earn a bachelor’s degree, Dan says, he looked more closely at Beacon College as a place to enroll. “All the pieces fit for me to go to Beacon College,” he says. Dan notes that he had been unsatisfied with his previous professional life, but he found fulfillment at Beacon, with a population that he fit in with and appreciated–and a newly found desire to get involved with a helping profession. Beacon’s peer-mentoring system emphasizes outreach and support among students who work closely with staff to assist other students.
Dan homeschooled his own children, so it was a natural fit for him to take on peer teaching roles at Beacon. He began with a position as a Writing Center consultant, and quickly earned appreciation from the students he was helping. Jacob Pinkston, Director of the Writing Center, raves about Dan’s work, there. “Dan has provided a valuable bridge between students and Writing Center staff. His dedication to his work in the Writing Center has been impressive, even as he has continued to insist that he is a student first.” When an opportunity arose to intern at the college’s Center for Student Success, Dan also welcomed the chance to work with fellow students in another capacity and eagerly immersed himself in this new role.
Dan’s work with students in the two on-campus centers placed him in a unique category at Beacon College, filling teacher and mentor roles even while he was himself a student. In his semi-teaching capacities, Dan says he came to realize his strengths, including his ability to maintain a patient, calm demeanor while he methodically explains material to students in a style that best meets their needs. He notes that this led him to realize that, for his second career, either teaching or counseling would best match his personality and skill set.
Dan Bordenkircher says he was thrilled to be recognized as Beacon’s 2015 Salutatorian. In his salutatory address to Beacon’s Class of 2015, Dan declared: “There is no other place that is quite like Beacon College.” His speech focused on the topic of awareness, and he encouraged his Beacon classmates to be aware of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, especially in terms of their learning disabilities. “Awareness is crucial. Get, start, work at and nurture the awareness of your strengths, abilities, and talents that have been put in you that uniquely work in the person you are.”
As he prepares to leave Beacon and embark on a new career, Dan is contemplating his options carefully. He has applied to Webster University’s graduate school program in counseling and is also looking at different teaching options. Additionally, he has considered becoming an ADHD coach, which would combine his own personal experiences with both his academic background and his passion for teaching.
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Given his excellent track record working with students, college officials have also offered Dan a full-time position with Beacon (which he says was his first choice), splitting his time between the Center for Student Success and the Writing Center. “Dan’s experience and patience have proved invaluable in his relationships with fellow Beacon students,” says Dr. Hagerty, “and the skills he has developed as a mature student will certainly lead him to a rewarding career, whichever option he chooses to pursue.”