June 3, 2023

Jessica Machado: Student Advocate

For Jessica Machado, it’s all about the students she reaches.

The new director of the Office of Disability Resources came to UMW three months ago from George Mason University, where she helped create a program for students with autism.

At Mary Washington, Machado hopes to continue building programs and finding resources for students with disabilities to help them reach their full potential.

UMW Director of Disability Resources Jessica Machado. Photo by Alex Sakes.

UMW Director of Disability Resources Jessica Machado. Photo by Alex Sakes.

While her role includes staying up-to-date on laws that protect people with disabilities and maneuvering a tight budget with a limited staff, she gets the greatest fulfillment working directly with students.

That includes watching them learn that having a disability “doesn’t mean that they are less capable,” Machado said. Rather, they “develop an understanding of their own uniqueness” and learn to advocate for themselves.

Q: Why did you choose to work at the University of Mary Washington?
A: I wanted to further my professional skills and take on additional leadership responsibilities. Since coming to UMW, I’ve had the chance to experience exactly what I was hoping for.

Q: What did you do before you came to work at UMW?
A: I worked at George Mason University as associate director of their Office of Disability Services and director of the Mason Autism Support Initiative program – an intensive support program for students on the spectrum. I loved it. Before that, I worked as a psychologist in the public schools in Virginia and California. I still see private clients from time to time and really enjoy that work as well.

Q: What is it like being a disability resources director?
A: I lead a passionate and selfless group of professionals. My responsibilities include leadership through creating clear goals and a mission statement for the office.

Q: What are the perks of your job?
A: I have an opportunity to advocate for students and make a difference in the community. I also get to work with students to help them understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

Q: What are the difficulties that come with being a disability resources director?
A: Having to navigate many personality types and the politics of working in the higher education system can be difficult at times. Sometimes, the goals that we are trying to accomplish through our work with students are not well-understood.

Q: Do you have any impactful memories dealing with your job?
A: The most impactful moments happen when I’m working with students one-on-one and can build a strong relationship with a particular student.

Q: Do you have any mottos you tell yourself every day?
A: I try to tell myself, just be better than yesterday and not to take life too seriously – I like to stay lighthearted and keep a smile on my face and laugh as often as possible. That helps a lot!