By Casey Drum
The Clemson LIFE program has been offering post-secondary education to students with disabilities graduating from high school since January of 2009. “The Clemson LIFE program is a model that I wish all schools would follow,” says Clemson University Head Football Coach, Dabo Swinney. “Learning Is For Everyone and this program provides incredible teaching and training for students with special needs.”
The University of Georgia is now welcoming an inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE) program, in the spring of 2017. Two UGA institutes, the J. W. Fanning Institute of Leadership Development and the Institute of Human Development and Disability (IHDD), have been exploring the idea of creating an IPSE program on the UGA campus for about three years. The Fanning Institute has combined their knowledge of leadership skills with IHDD’s knowledge of people with disabilities. “We have a history here of serving underserved populations and working for them in terms of leadership development,” says Dr. Brendan Leahy, Fanning faculty member. Leahy and fellow Fanning faculty member, Lori Tiller, have paired with Assistant Clinical Professor and Coordinator of Disability Studies at IHDD, Dr. Carol Laws, in order to explore the idea of working with youth with disabilities to transition onto college campuses.
IPSE off Campus
“There’s a regional, state-wide and national movement,” says Leahy. Three years ago, Leahy and Tiller began attending meetings for IPSE programs across the southeast. Roughly two years ago they received a contract to formally explore the future of an IPSE program at UGA. Laws joined the journey a year and a half ago, attending meetings to learn about the different types of programs. They visited Clemson University, Kennesaw State University, University of South Carolina and other colleges throughout the southeast. The programs at each of these higher education institutions are created differently; each offers different types of classes, living accommodations and extra curricular activities.
The Clemson LIFE program has had a huge impact on the UGA IPSE development and has grown from five students in 2009 to currently having 24 students enrolled. Their long-term goal is to have 40 students by 2019, says Clemson LIFE founder and Executive Director Dr. Joseph Ryan. During their first two years, students receive instruction on independent living skills, cooking, cleaning, safety and etc. LIFE students who demonstrate that they can safely function within an apartment setting with close supervision are invited to participate in advanced training during an optional third and fourth-year of study, says Ryan. Clemson LIFE currently has about 400 undergraduate students, from a variety of majors, volunteering to work as mentors, tutors and buddies with the LIFE students, as well as volunteering for special events. “Mentors help LIFE students set goals and monitor their progress in developing employment and independent living skills,” says Ryan. Buddies help the LIFE students participate in campus and community activities.
IPSE on Campus
Jim Thompson, UGA graduate and former SGA vice-president, ran on the platform of creating an IPSE program at UGA. He was inspired by a video from the Clemson LIFE program, noticing a huge national trend, and wanted to bring awareness for a possible program on the UGA campus. He researched statistics on how many students were being forced to go out of state for an IPSE program that fit their needs and reached out to administrators on campus to gain support. A friend in one of Laws’ disability classes finally made Thompson aware of their ongoing exploratory research. He began working in October 2014 as a branch to both the student body and administration.
Thompson discovered a huge student push, which resulted in the unanimous passing of a resolution within the student senate in support of the initiative. Thompson was able to pass the torch onto new SGA executive, junior, Darby Miller. Miller will work as a liaison between Fanning and IHDD and the student body in building UGA’S IPSE program, Destination Dawgs. “From hands on learning experiences for studying different fields, to creating a student organization who serves as mentors for students going through the IPSE program, this program brings innovation, passion and the bulldawg nation closer together,” says Miller. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to have a college education and experience.”
Fanning’s Director, Dr. Matthew Bishop, says their role is to “facilitate the process, to understand what others are doing and the best practices and success stories…and understand the feasibility of it.” Fanning has been contracted to organize some summer camps for students with intellectual disabilities. “They will come to campus and receive leadership training and be exposed to what it’s like to be a college student,” says Bishop. Fanning will provide direct leadership training to students with disabilities from all over the state. “We are excited about helping that population through leadership development,” says Leahy. “Creating leadership skills within each student will allow them to have a successful transition into a program.”
At the end of June 2015 the grant that Fanning held ended. Leahy, Tiller, Laws as well as SGA executives continued to work and to keep the momentum moving. Now, they are happy to announce that there will be an IPSE program on UGA’s campus. Destination Dawgs and the IPSE program will launch in the spring of 2017, with Fanning hosting a summer institute for interested students in the summer of 2016. “When we launch the Destination Dawgs program, we are going to start small with a cohort of 5 or 6 students, “ says Laws. Smaller programs, says Tiller, seem to be the most successful and make the most sense to the trio. IPSE programs are preparing students for employment outcomes. “The primary goal is that youth who would traditionally have a hard time transitioning out of K-12 public school into a meaningful job will have the opportunity to be in internships and have experiences where they can explore future careers,” says Laws. “In addition, they will learn how to live independently and have a college experience, so that when they finish with the program they’ll be more likely to be hired full time in a job that can actually pay them a competitive wage.”
According to Ryan, approximately one out of 10 families have a member with an intellectual disability. “This means that many individuals are not familiar with the unique challenges and needs of these young men and women,” says Ryan. This can lead to the general public not understanding the needs and strengths of students with disabilities. Students of IHDD’s Disability Studies program are excited for the future of Destination Dawgs, and the awareness it will build on UGA’s campus.