Students Shine at Iona University’s 4th Annual Neurodiversity Panel

Panelists shed light on neurodivergent experiences such as Autism and ADHD

Alesandra Payne ’24

Alesandra Payne '24

New Rochelle N.Y. – It wasn’t until later in life that Alesandra Payne ’24 discovered she had ADHD. Today, after serving as president of the Neurodiversity Club at Iona University, she is an enthusiastic advocate and ally for others as they navigate their own neurodivergent journey. 

“The Neurodiversity Club was created to form a community for neurodivergent students to interact with each other in a safe, nonjudgmental environment,” said Payne, who just graduated as an Honors psychology and speech pathology double major with a minor in neuroscience. “In this space, everyone can be who they are and fully express themselves without holding back.” 

Payne recently shared her experiences along with five other student panelists as part of Iona’s 4th annual Neurodivergent Student Panel. Held in April during Neurodiversity Awareness Month in partnership with Iona’s Counseling Center, the event attracted over 100 attendees who were eager to learn more about the neurodiverse experience and partner as allies.  

“I hope people will leave the panel with a better understanding of what it’s like to be a neurodiverse person in a neurotypical world, and that they will be encouraged to learn and develop empathy for people who have differences from them,” Payne said. 

The Neurodiversity Club is an outgrowth of the Counseling Center’s Dolce Postgraduate Fellowship, founded by Iona Board of Trustees member Andrew J. Dolce ’57, ’19H. 

Ali Swoish, Ed.M., LMHC, previously served as a Dolce Fellow and is now assistant director of the Counseling Center. One of her early achievements was working with students to establish the Neurodiversity Club and launch the student panel.  

“There is no greater joy for me than watching neurodivergent students find belonging at Iona,” Swoish said. “Working towards an accessible and inclusive campus environment takes constant effort, and what these students have accomplished throughout their undergraduate journeys will carry forward in Iona's campus culture for years to come.”

Payne, who has participated in the panel all four years, has witnessed the annual event grow in attendance, reflecting the ongoing support for neurodivergent programming across campus.

“I have really appreciated seeing the audience grow and become more diverse,” said Payne. “I am very passionate about neurodiversity awareness and education, and I love that neurodiverse students have a safe space to discuss their experiences and for the Iona community to learn and ask questions.”

Fellow panelist Ethan Moskowitz ’24 echoed Payne’s sentiments, saying it felt great to share his insights as a student with autism.

Ethan Moskowitz ’24

Ethan Moskowitz '24

“I hope people will take away from the panel that we are all different and deal with different things,” he said. “It’s a very special event and we have seen great growth every year, and at neurodiversity events all over campus.” 

Moskowitz, a digital media and production major, added he has grown tremendously during his time at Iona and is very grateful for the resources, events and other opportunities both on campus and around the world that have helped him “come out of my comfort zone.” 

In addition to serving on the e-board of the Neurodiversity Club, Moskowitz has also served as a mentor in the Gael Chat course, which provides students with the tools necessary for effective communication across various settings. For instance, students learn important social skills and are given the opportunity to practice interactions such as how to start, enter and exit conversations, appropriately use humor, handle disagreements, keep friendships and more.

Applying these skills outside of the classroom, he also been a member of Iona’s TV and radio clubs and an intern with ESPN. He especially credits the Iona in Mission trip to Jamaica as being a transformative experience, in addition to campus resources such as CAP and ASO

“Being a mentor for people with disabilities in the Gael Chat course was a key role to boost the confidence of others and myself,” said Moskowitz. “Through these opportunities I've played a role in, I've made lifelong friends who I've been able to connect with about my life story, which I've never had space to do before. It feels amazing to share my disability with others, so they are more aware and know what to expect.” 

It's safe to say Iona has been a transformative experience – and it’s especially evident to those who have witnessed the journey. 

“For Alesandra and Ethan especially, there is a visible confidence and euphoria present when they step into an unmasked version of themselves,” Swoish said.

Founded in 1940, Iona University is a master's-granting private, Catholic, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers. Iona's 45-acre New Rochelle campus and 28-acre Bronxville campus are just 20 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. With a total enrollment of nearly 4,000 students and an alumni base of more than 50,000 around the world, Iona is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona is highly accredited, offering undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science and business administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees and numerous advanced certificate programs. Iona students enjoy small class sizes, engaged professors and a wide array of academic programs across the School of Arts & Science; LaPenta School of Business; NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences; and Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Iona is widely recognized in prestigious rankings, including The Princeton Review’s 2024 national list of “The Best 389 Colleges” and The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s “2024 Best Colleges in America,” which ranked Iona at #66 in the nation overall and #8 in the nation among Catholic schools. Iona’s LaPenta School of Business is also accredited by AACSB International, a recognition awarded to just six percent of business schools worldwide. In addition, The Princeton Review recognized Iona’s on-campus MBA program as a “Best Business School for 2023.” Iona also offers a fully online MBA program for even greater flexibility. In July 2021, Iona announced the establishment of the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences, which is now principally located on Iona’s Bronxville campus in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian. Connecting to its Irish heritage, the University also recently announced it is expanding abroad with a new campus in County Mayo, Ireland. A school on the rise, Iona officially changed its status from College to University on July 1, 2022, reflecting the growth of its academic programs and the prestige of an Iona education.