Font Size

content body

Madelyn McKinney, an exercise science student who graduated in May, was named the EAGLES Program’s 2023-2024 Outstanding WINGS Peer Mentor of the Year.

The purpose of the WINGS, or Warmhearted Individuals Nurturing Great Success, Peer Mentor Program is to facilitate a volunteer movement at Auburn that creates opportunities for friendships, personal/social interactions, employment support, academic support, and leadership development between traditional Auburn University students and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities enrolled in the EAGLES program. Furthermore, the WINGS peer mentors support the vision and mission of the EAGLES program by fostering genuine relationships during an EAGLES student’s Auburn experience and beyond. The goal of the Auburn University Chapter of the WINGS Organization, is to promote friendships and mentorships between members of Auburn University’s student body and those in the EAGLES program. The WINGS Organization of Auburn seeks to contribute positively to the social and psychological development of all persons involved and to enhance the idea of a genuinely diverse and inclusive community. 

“I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have been selected as the Peer Mentor of the Year,” McKinney said. “This award holds a very special place in my heart because the EAGLES students and staff mean the world to me. Mentoring and helping others has always been a passion of mine, and I feel incredibly grateful to be recognized in this way. Three years ago, I was chosen to be a WINGS peer mentor, and it has been an ongoing privilege to mentor and build relationships with the students. The EAGLES Program came into my life at a time when I needed it the most.” 

McKinney was part of the WINGS program for three years, initially inspired by her mother to get involved in a similar program during high school.

“My mother is a special education teacher and serves as my ultimate role model,” she said. “Together, we share a deep passion for helping individuals with disabilities achieve their goals while also fostering enduring friendships.” 

Her high school experience solidified her desire to continue working with individuals with disabilities during her time on the Plains.

“It was an experience that quickly became a highlight of my academic journey,” she said. “I knew this was something that I wanted to take with me to college. Ultimately, I love helping people and being a part of something bigger than myself.”

She applied to be a part of the program her sophomore year and continued her involvement throughout her time in college, starting as a Social WING and then adding Academic WING and Employment WING to her service.

“Reflecting on my experience with Auburn’s EAGLES Program, I’ve realized how much empathy and compassion I have to help people reach their goals,” she said. “Engaging with the students in the program has not only heightened my understanding but also amplified my desire to make a positive difference in their lives.”

McKinney said serving as a peer mentor was one of the most impactful parts of her time at Auburn.

“Going into it, I thought that I would be the one who helps mentor them through college life, but they have taught me so much more about myself than I ever thought was possible,” she said. “College life is hard, but it is always easier with a friend by your side. I love that I get to be the friend they can call to hang out with, go to a sports event with or even just talk to on the phone.” 

She said she found the most fulfillment in witnessing the growth of the students.

“Observing the students overcome challenges, achieve their goals and flourish in their personal development journeys has been amazing,” she said. “I get to do all of this while also forming a genuine relationship with each of them.”

Through her involvement with EAGLES, McKinney formed relationships while supporting each student’s growth and development, inspiring her to want to continue to be a part of a community where everyone feels valued and supported. In fact, her work with the EAGLES helped shape her career goals – she is planning to attend physical therapy school at Faulkner University this fall. 

“To help my students succeed to the best of their abilities, I had to be patient, build a personal relationship with each student based on trust and meet them where they were,” she said. “I learned that even small victories can lead to significant progress and that unrealistic expectations are not necessary to achieve success. When I started thinking about my career path, I knew that I wanted to find a profession that would allow me to continue following these same passions. Physical therapy quickly became the perfect fit.”