At first glance, Trace Nardi seems like a very quiet and shy person, the kind of person it would be easy to pass over without a second thought. However, beneath his quiet exterior lies an exuberant and determined spirit which has made him one of EC’s superstars.
Nardi is not your traditional college student. He is enrolled in ELSA (Elmhurst College Learning and Success Academy), a program setup to help students with physical and learning disabilities succeed both during and after college.
The program began in 2004 under the guidance of Lu Doty and one of her colleagues. They were looking for college opportunities for Doty’s colleague’s son who had a disability. After learning about the Mason LIFE Program at George Mason University, Doty and her colleague decided to start a similar program at EC.
Nardi joined ELSA when he and his twin brother George came to campus in 2013.
“I got a lot of attention if I needed help,” said Nardi. “I came because of the [people] caring about people factor. Everybody is there for everybody.”
Nardi’s brother George has recognized how important the program has been for his brother.
“ELSA is a great program,” he said. “It shows that anyone can go to college and live their dreams and can live up to their potential.”
Despite the help and support he received from his brother and from the ELSA program, coming from high school to college was not easy.
“It was so overwhelming at first,” said Nardi. “I thought, ‘It’s just a new step; I just have to ease in and be my own person.’ Once I got acclimated to campus I said, ‘I’ve got this, I can do this’ I just had to stay calm and be an ordinary college student. It made the start more peaceful.”
Nardi took several courses — such as Financial Smarts I and Introduction to College Life — that are specifically geared towards ELSA students. Nardi also had the opportunity to take ELSA electives, which are degree courses that interested him.
“Trace worked through the composition classes,” said Doty. “He did all the things a good writer should do. He was not afraid of rough drafts or of fixing his work to make it better.”
The ELSA program enabled Nardi to put his love of writing to good use. In his sophomore year, Nardi joined the staff of The Leader where he writes the sports round-up for the paper. He also got an internship with a newspaper in Hinsdale. After college, Nardi hopes to eventually find a job in journalism.
However, for Nardi, school was more than work and classes. He joined many student organizations, such as Best Buddies, an international organization which pairs and builds friendships between people with intellectual and learning disabilities with those who do not.
“When I joined Best Buddies I thought, ‘Wow. It’s a bigger chapter than in my high school,’” said Nardi. “‘There’s a lot of people involved. A lot of people care.’”
Because of his passion for music, Nardi also plays euphonium in the Varsity Band and joined Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the music fraternity. He even encouraged Tommy Theiss, one of his fellow ELSA students to rush for Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia this past year and became Theiss’ big brother after coaching and encouraging him through the rushing process.
“Trace is one of the coolest dudes,” said Nick Lowe, a sophomore and the Fraternity Education Officer for Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. “He has such an enthusiasm for life and really takes the time to go out of his way to sit with people and say what they mean to him. He has a passion to be included and to have people to see him just like they see everyone else.”
It is this desire which has fueled Nardi through his four years at EC.
“People say, ‘I don’t think you can do this,’ but I proved them wrong,” Nardi said. “I think of my TA, my buddy who is in Study Abroad, Becca Vogt. She kind of made my whole learning better. She told me, ‘You’re not doing it for everyone else, you’re doing it for you.’”
Because of this enthusiasm and his great attitude, Nardi has become a spokesperson for the ELSA program.
“Trace speaks at informational events for ELSA,” said Doty. “He is a great speaker and he works very hard. We also have him do tours for prospective ELSA students. We are going to have to find someone to take his place when he graduates.”
For Nardi, it is all about the opportunities.
“Every opportunity ELSA and Elmhurst gave me made me a better person and very happy.”