As program coordinator for Next Steps at Vanderbilt, Kelly Wendel manages and coordinates the peer mentors, a group of volunteer Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students who provide peer support and academic tutoring to the students, who are enrolled in a 2-year certification program for students with intellectual disabilities. The peer mentors are called Ambassadores (a play on Commodores, the Vanderbilt mascot), and each Next Steps at Vanderbilt student has a five-person “circle of support” comprised of the Ambassadores. Each Ambassadore commits 2–4 hours weekly. Wendel drafts the individualized schedules for each student and helps identify Vanderbilt courses that match the student's interest. Wendel provides educational and behavioral support to those students in the program and co-teaches a Career Technology class to better prepare students for employment. She also maintains the program budget and administrative records.
Prior to joining Next Steps, Wendel worked as an educational consultant with Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD). As a consultant, she provided educational and behavioral training for teachers, administrators, and parents throughout the state of Tennessee and served as Director of TRIAD Social Skills Camp. Wendel received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Wake Forest University and earned a Master’s degree in Special Education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.