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Life Without Limits: Helping Students Thrive

Alissa Stainbrook
October 18, 2016

UMD graduate student Alissa Stainbrook brings light to Disability Resource Center

Most fifteen-year-old girls are worried about clothes, their future, and popularity.

For Alissa Stainbrook, it was different. She worried about the people closest to her. She knew when people were happy and healthy, and she also knew the signs of danger: drug use, depression, anxiety, and family abuse.

When she saw a high school friend begin to display out-of-character behaviors, it concerned her. One day in high school, Alissa made an excuse and got out of class. She found her friend and took her by the hand. They walked together down the long hall to speak with a counselor.

Alissa stood by her friend. Even as a teenager, she was able to recognize what support, guidance, and compassion could do to help someone.

“It’s good to legitimately make a difference in someone’s life,” Alissa says. “It’s good to help others succeed and be the best that they can.”

That motto turned into a life goal. It is one of the many great things Alissa has brought to UMD. “It’s a unique position to be working with students who are at a transitional age,” she says. “College is a time to learn to advocate for ourselves and grow in a brand new way.”

Alissa grew up in Esko, Minnesota and got her undergraduate degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin - Superior in 2011. After three years working as a mental health practitioner at the Human Development Center in Duluth, she was hired at UMD as a Disability Specialist.

She works with college students who are dealing with disabilities or other internal struggles. “I meet with students one-on-one,” she says. “I help them identify barriers that might affect their school or home life.” She and her colleagues then try to find ways to reduce and mitigate those barriers with academic accommodations and other resources.

Alissa says the Disability Resource Center offers excellent services. “They create an equitable and inclusive learning environment,” she says. “We know disabilities are just one aspect of diversity.

After her first year working at UMD, the director of her department pushed her to continue her education with a master's degree. She enrolled in the Master of Social Work program in the College of Education and Human Service Professions. 

Alissa is currently completing a required internship for the MSW program at the Duluth Birch Tree Center, a short-term crisis stabilization center. That position has worked congruently with her position at UMD because it is another great resource for students.

Dozens of UMD students have been helped by Alissa. “I can share skills that light a path for students as they progress through college,” she says.