‘Aaron the Animal’ Wins Manning Award for Academic Excellence

Wheeling Jesuit graduate Aaron Fajerski did not allow his visible and invisible disabilities prevent him from earning a bachelor of arts degree in literary philosophy from the university. For achieving academic excellence, he was chosen the 2018 winner of the Manning Award for Academic Success

The Award is presented each year in honor of 2010 WJU graduate Shawn Manning who succeeded in achieving a Criminal Justice degree while overcoming the challenges of his learning disability. After graduation, Shawn entered the Police Academy and is now an officer for the city of Reno, Nev.

Fajerski is the son of Debra and Mark Fajerski and a commuter from Claysville, Pa. Disability Services Director Kathy Tagg said that Fajerski overcame the challenges of cerebral palsy and a learning disability to succeed in the classroom and earn a degree from Wheeling Jesuit.

Fajerski loves to read and write so he especially enjoyed his literature courses at WJU. “I liked the conversational style of teaching that took place in my literature courses. It was easy to connect with my professors, and they were very enthusiastic about their subjects.”

Assistant Professor of English Dr. Amy Phillips noted, “Aaron was one of the hardest working students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching at Wheeling Jesuit University. He came to every class prepared and was eager to discuss the texts, and his enthusiasm and positive attitude filled the classroom. His consistent drive toward personal and scholarly improvement was nothing short of inspiring.”

Due to his learning disability, Fajerski utilized extra time for tests he took at WJU’s Testing Center, where he used a large individual desk area to accommodate his physical disability. Tagg noted, “Aaron just needed a little extra time to read and think in order to comprehend material and he used the Testing Center as a place where he could focus without distractions.”

At the Bishop Hodges Library, Fajerski engaged in a work study position at the circulation desk and completed an internship for his major. As part of his internship, he collaborated with Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Jane Neuenschwander and the WJU elementary education students to write a grant that sought funding from the Appalachian College Association. The grant was approved and funded the purchase of LEGO playsets that encourage hands-on literacy and reading comprehension for young children.

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Associate Librarian Paula Lestini supervised Fajerski’s internship and said, “Aaron was a delight to work with — especially on the project for his internship. He was eager to learn something new and always put 100 percent effort into whatever he was working on. I like the fact that he was unafraid to ask questions, and that he handled constructive criticism well. I am so proud of him for what he accomplished in writing the grant.”

Fajerski participated in several student activities at WJU. He submitted his poem for publication in the Jewelweed, WJU’s student literary magazine. He also participated in the Man Club through Student Services and the Kairos Retreat with Campus Ministry. And he was a loyal fan at WJU wrestling and rugby matches.

Fajerski was born with cerebral palsy, which mainly affected his legs and created a need for him to use the assistance of crutches, a wheeled walker or a cane to ambulate. But that physical challenge never prevented him from becoming strong by working out in his home gym or at the athletic facility at WJU, where he could be seen performing lateral pull downs, arm curls, seated rows, dips and pull ups.

Security Officer Joe Gorayeb observed Fajerski getting around campus on his own between classes or working out in the gym for the past four years and he gave him the nickname “Aaron the Animal” because of his admirable work ethic and unwavering determination.

Fajerski said, “I truly appreciate the support and encouragement my parents have always given me throughout my life, and I am grateful for the opportunity to earn a degree from Wheeling Jesuit University. I definitely received the help I needed through Disability Services. The people there are extremely nice – WJU is the bomb.”

Tagg added, “It has been wonderful to watch Aaron develop as an independent learner during his time at WJU. He thrived in the individualized liberal arts environment. He never complained about any difficulties he faced, and he inspired me with his determination, hard work, and his encouraging example to others who have visible or invisible disabilities.”

Fajerski commented on his philosophy about life with a disability. “Life may not be fair sometimes, but I just go with the flow.”