KENNESAW, Ga. (April 6, 2015) –This year, Charlie Miller’s spring break is taking him far from his comfort zone and in the direction of greater independence.
Miller, Brielyn Roper-Hubbert and Janet Keller – all students in Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth – embarked Friday on a 10-day visit to the United Arab Emirates. They will be part of a Kennesaw State contingent — five Exercise Science and Sports Management students and three staff members — who will be making the 14-hour flight to Dubai.
The trip, considered the first of its kind where students with disabilities are full participants, will include stops in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah while in the Middle East.
“It’s groundbreaking, really,” said Miller, a sophomore from Gainesville, Ga. “It’s the first trip of its kind for an Inclusive Academy. It’s really the start of something new and really something amazing.
“It’s going to be interesting to be so far away from our secure location into somewhere new. So we have to get more independent. And it’s just really cool how we get to do it.”
The Academy is a program that offers a fully inclusive college experience to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities that do not meet the university requirements for admission as degree-seeking students. It includes enrollment as non-degree seeking audit students in typical university courses alongside degree-seeking students.
Kennesaw State has the first program in Georgia to make this kind of trip with its students.
“This is inclusive,” said Dr. Ibrahim Elsawy, the Academy’s executive director, “We are going to the Middle East, which is a totally different culture.
“It’s a 14-hour trip, which is difficult for anyone. International travel is difficult. And we will be prepared.”
In efforts to acclimate to what they would experience, the students took trips to New York and Washington. Last March on their trip to D.C., they visited advocacy agencies to prepare documentation for the trip and visit Congress. In November, in New York, they toured the United Nations.The trips afforded them the chance to train the students about traveling through airports, how to handle themselves on planes and other travel dos and don’ts.
Granted, those trips can’t approximate the journey the students are about to take, but they do help.
“I’ve been working really hard in school,” Roper-Hubbert said. “This is a new experience and I don’t want to get any kind of trouble over there where I don’t come back.”
“I just hate taking off my shoes,” Keller said, of the airport security procedures. “But I’m excited and we’ve been learning how to say thank you and please. It is going to be different.”
As part of the trip, the students will work as volunteers as part of a community service project, attend a class at Sharjah University and visit with non-governmental organizations. Along with other Kennesaw State students, they will also visit the Sharjah Sports Council and attend athletic events.
Elsawy chose the UAE because of its progressive work with students with disabilities. He added that the country’s disabilities instruction is good for the students, and they will have partners to work with the students while in Sharjah.
“This trip is for us to exchange information,” Elsawy said. “We are going to learn from them and to tell them about our experience — especially as an inclusive university. So it’s win-win. We are working with them as equals. Our students are not going there as tourists. They are going on a mission, and they are going as ambassadors of the United States.
“And actually, this is more effective than official politicians that represent the United States. Because people-to-people is more effective than anything else in this area. This is very important to them to feel proud and to be part of the community and part of the country. They are becoming Global Citizens.”
Program is piloting a third year, planning study abroad trip
The Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University kicked off the new school year with a reception honoring campus and community partners, as well as some big news – a “junior year” for students.
“In social work, when we work with people with different abilities, it’s important to partner with different organizations in the community because each brings different things to the table that allow people with different abilities to spread their wings and fly,” interim WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Monica Nandan said. “All of these partnerships help nurture the Academy to its fullest potential.”
Representatives with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, Kennesaw State’s Office of Legal Affairs and the Office of the Vice President for Research were all on hand. Several Academy students and alumni were also at the reception.
“There are three other universities coming on board (with academies),” said Eric Jacobson, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. “This is a dream that a lot of people have that is now coming true, and y’all were the leaders in that.”
Launched in 2009, the Academy offers a unique two-year certificate program designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a college experience through the auditing of college-level courses, as well as courses designed to help them gain social, work and living skills, so they can find jobs they want and become more independent. It is one of 250 such programs nationwide, and the only one of its kind in Georgia.
“You learn about life on campus; you don’t learn about life at home,” said Gregory Schmieg, executive director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. “We have one vision: that every Georgian live and work independently as they choose.”
Two new developments at the Academy were also announced during the reception: the Academy launched a pilot third-year program beginning this year; and the Academy has received a grant to travel with students overseas next year.
Students in the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University will soon have a computer lab of their own, thanks to a donation from the Holly Lane Foundation.
“This grant is very important because it supports the technology needs of our students, and technology is a very important part of today’s educational environment,” said Academy Executive Director Ibrahim Elsawy.
The $9,000 grant will fund desktop computers for a new computer lab for the Academy’s 18 students. Part of the WellStar College of Health and Human Services, the Academy offers a unique two-year certificate program designed to provide students with intellectual disabilities a college experience through the auditing of college-level courses, as well as courses designed to help them gain social, work and living skills so they can find jobs they want and become more independent.
“The new lab will give our students a dedicated space where they can work with their mentors,” Elsawy said. “This is very good news for the students.”
To date, the Academy has received more than $150,000 in grant funding this year, including $50,000 from the Georgia Legislature. The Academy is one of 250 programs nationwide, and the only one of its kind in Georgia.
The Holly Lane Foundation is a private foundation in Atlanta that distributes funds to nonprofits whose focus is to serve and enhance the lives of individuals or groups with developmental disabilities.
“We are very grateful for this grant,” Elsawy commented, “and we look forward to future opportunities to cooperate with the Holly Lane Foundation.”
Program offers a college experience to intellectually and developmentally disabled students
KENNESAW, Ga. (April 18, 2013) — A Kennesaw State University program that enables students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to experience college life has received $50,000 in the FY 2014 Georgia General Assembly budget.
This is the first legislative appropriation received by the Academy for Inclusive Learning & Social Growth, which is housed in the University’s WellStar College of Health and Human Services.
When the final gavel fell on the 152ndlegislative session March 29, legislators had approved $100,000 in funding in support of inclusive post-secondary education for students with developmental disabilities, including $50,000 for Kennesaw State’s Academy and an additional $50,000 that will be used for the development of an inclusive post-secondary educational program at another USG institution.
“We are honored and grateful to receive this funding in support of inclusive post-secondary education,” said President Daniel S. Papp. “Diversity is an important part of Kennesaw State’s mission, and the Academy is a reflection of that. This support is an affirmation of the hard work and dedication of the Academy’s students and staff over the last four years.”
The Academy offers a unique two-year certificate program designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a college experience through the auditing of college-level courses, as well as courses designed to help them gain social, work and living skills so they can find jobs they want and become more independent.
“By having this college experience, students who may have been very shy, or a little awkward in social situations before, are suddenly integrated into the student body, and it changes their whole outlook on what they think their abilities are,” said WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Richard Sowell. “We are proud to be the standard bearers for inclusive post-secondary education in Georgia.”
Academy administrators are working on creating a replication manual because they are being called upon locally, nationally, and internationally, to provide consulting to other institutions interested in creating similar programs. According to Academy Director Ibrahim El Sawy, the Academy has received inquiries from as far away as the Middle East for such assistance.
"We are ready to work with any who wants to join us in this important initiative," he said.
The Academy is one of 250 programs nationwide, and the only one of its kind in Georgia. At a capitol rally this winter supporting state funding for more programs like the Academy, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal praised Kennesaw State as a pioneer.
"(Kennesaw State University is) a forerunner of this in our higher educational institutions, and I believe it is a program that we can replicate throughout our entire university system," Deal said.
What makes Kennesaw State’s program standout from others across the country, however, is the extent of inclusivity. Not only do Academy students live on campus, there is an alumni association, a parents’ group and scholarship opportunities.
Diane Barker commutes 250 miles a day to bring her son, Casey, to Kennesaw State.
“If you put my son next to another 22-year-old at Kennesaw who is a typical student, the outside may look different, but he has every goal, vision and dream that the typical student has,” Barker said. “The biggest benefit of the program is providing him with a typical experience, where he is part of everybody else on the KSU campus. He’s not that young man with Down Syndrome.”
Where once society pigeon-holed persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities into jobs as grocery store clerks and fast food workers, Academy students dream of jobs working with children and professional athletes.
“Even though I have a disability, I can do normal things that regular college students can in their lifetimes,” said Academy student Faith Roman, who is studying early childhood education and hopes one day to work at a daycare. “I am living in the dorms and I love getting to be with new friends. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
--By Jennifer Hafer
Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering 80 graduate and undergraduate degrees, including doctorates in education, business and nursing, and a new Ph.D. in international conflict management. A member of the University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive, residential institution with a growing population of 24,600 students from more than 130 countries.
In a commencement season full of firsts, friends, family and supporters of Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth celebrated a second – the graduation of its second cohort of students with intellectual disabilities.
“I can’t tell you how proud we are of our six fabulous graduates,” academy director Harry Stern said. “They have exceeded everyone’s expectations, including their own.”