Graduating senior is change agent for disability advocacy and education

Sustainability major Richard German is a leader in helping improve environmental impacts and community inclusivity for sports venues.

Friday, May 3, 2024
Savanna Schuermann and Richard German meet outside SDSU's Hardy Tower. (SDSU)
Savanna Schuermann and Richard German meet outside Hardy Tower classroom. (SDSU)

He wakes up at 5 a.m. to make it to campus by 8. Many times he puts in 15-hour days that include using public transit to get to campus, attending classes, and working on internship projects. 

Richard German cares deeply about the environment and chose sustainability as a major partly due to his interest in reducing the widespread litter he encountered on his trek between campus and home. At one point, he had to remove the tires of his wheelchair to extract all the trash that had accumulated. 

German, born with cerebral palsy, transferred to San Diego State University in spring 2022, after attending Grossmont College for 16 years. 

When he enrolled in lecturer Savanna Schuermann’s Sustainability and Culture course he had a frank discussion with her about how he would manage the course workload. German recalled Schuermann telling him, “I’m not going to let you go through this semester alone.” 

The two bonded immediately. “She’s a good listener, and she’s patient,” German said.

“Working with and advocating for Richard has been one of the most memorable and life-altering experiences of my life,” Schuermann said. “Richard thinks he has learned from me, but really, I have learned from him. I am so stoked to see him prepare to graduate with his degree and go on to make this world a more inclusive, less-ableist place. And, he is just a hilarious and smart guy.” 

German’s academic journey 

Schuerrmann was the sustainability internship coordinator last year and since German was required to take on an internship before graduation, she knew the perfect fit: something in the sports field where he could help improve environmental impacts, enhance community inclusivity, and offer valuable feedback on ADA compliance for stadiums and entertainment venues.

Enter Geno Gerbo, general manager of San Diego Strike Force, the professional indoor football team, and the Strike Force Cares Foundation, a community nonprofit foundation that operates in tandem with the football team to do work with the community, particularly with marginalized and underserved community members.  

Working with the San Diego Strike Force has allowed German to embrace his passion for sustainability, sports, and accessibility. Many of his internship hours were completed virtually, and oftentimes Gerbo drove to campus for biweekly in-person meetings at the sustainability student center in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. They talked weekly to discuss feasibility projects and Gerbo arranged appropriate transportation for German to complete on-site visits at the football arena or other community spaces.

German’s internship assignments included surveys of the organization and feedback as a key informant from the disabled community perspective. He also attended training camps and offered to draw up plays for the team, some of whom were his teammates at West Hills High School when he was the football captain and others were players he befriended on the team at Grossmont College. 

German is a well-liked and committed member of the Strike Force team on the sidelines where he connects with players, thinks strategically, and attends every home game. “He has a charismatic personality,” said Gerbo. “He powers through and raises everyone up.”

During his internship, German proposed the idea of sharing his personal experiences associated with accessibility at San Diego sports venues. He and Gerbo presented a proposal to the builders of the new Oceanside San Diego Sockers stadium in which German gave recommendations on key technical features necessary for an ADA-compliant venue.

On campus, German offers a helping hand to other students with disabilities. On a recent evening at the library, he helped a student upload documents when they needed assistance, even though he was in the midst of doing his own homework. German received the “Outstanding Persistence” award from the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs, Outreach and Success (EOPOS).

“Richard is remarkable and has demonstrated unparalleled perseverance, determination, and resilience throughout his San Diego State University academic journey," said Charnise Bumpus, EOPOS counselor. "Despite many challenges and obstacles he may have faced, he always maintained exceptional perseverance and relentless commitment to his studies."

Commencement and future plans 

The next San Diego Strike Force road game takes place in Las Vegas on May 10, the same day as the College of Arts and Letters commencement ceremony. German considered going to Las Vegas until he realized that he could not miss this chance to cross the stage — with family and friends watching — on a very important day of his academic journey.

After graduation, he intends to continue his work in the field of disability-rights advocacy. German will focus on making a difference by advocating for better treatment and understanding of students with disabilities and access for all. 

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