UCCS, Office of Inclusive Services hopes to expand, offer certificates to more disabled students after first year of program

April 18, 2017

Jasmine Nelson

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     After the 2016-17 school year, Colorado will no longer be one of four states without higher education available to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

     Under Senate Bill 16-196, three students with intellectual disabilities were admitted to UCCS for the first time at the university and in Colorado who started attending class in August.

     The Senate Bill states that, “It is beneficial for Colorado students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to create opportunities for inclusive higher education at Colorado institutions by providing financial resources for those institutions.”

     UCCS is one of three campuses in Colorado that accepts intellectually and developmentally disabled students working toward college certificates.

     Next semester, the Office of Inclusive Services will be able to admit 11 students to attend classes for the certificate program at UCCS. The goal is to eventually serve up to 40 students within the fi rst four years of the certificate program.

     Ashley Mabry, a second-semester student studying theater, hopes to create a fashion line of professional clothing for the disabled community to help them in their interviews and careers.

     “I got into fashion when I was a little girl. For me, it’s just basically the air that I breathe,” she said.

     According to Christi Kasa, director of the Office of Inclusive Services, students earn a certificate in a specific course of study, similar to students choosing a major for their bachelor’s degree.

     Costs are paid for by the state at $75,000 per year and by the non-profit organization, Colorado Initiative for Inclusive Higher Education, at $25,000 per year.

     Both stop funding after a student’s first four years. Each semester the student attends UCCS, the office charges a tuition and per-semester service charge of $3,000.

     The service fee covers costs for resources to help students do their homework, teach students independent job and living skills and to learn how to navigate UCCS, according to Kasa.

     Other than the mandatory completion of a Gateway Program Seminar course and a capstone course at the end of four years, students are welcome to register for any class as long as they are in line with their career goals, Kasa said.

     “We advise (students) on which classes will be appropriate and they take nine credits per semester,” she said. Students also receive modified curricula based on their individual strengths and abilities. “They don’t have to do the course at the same level of rigor as everyone else, and so they receive a modified grade, and that’s why their courses don’t count toward a degree,” Kasa said. “We push them, so that they can really accomplish as much as they possibly can within the class, but modify it to a level where they can still be successful.”

     Mabry attends classes with her mentor, Mariana Lara, a master’s student in clinical and mental health counseling.

     Lara is one of three mentors in the Office of Inclusive Services. She goes to campus events and activities with Mabry, helps her with homework and spends time with her on campus.

     “Next year, though, (the students) are going to be a bit more independent with going to classes,” Lara said.

     If the student needs more social help than academic help, Lara said, their mentor will focus less on attending classes with students.

     “It’s very individual as to what the student needs,” she said.

     Three mentors work one-on-one with the three students. Lara spends 25 hours per week in this position, depending on the schedules of her students and the other mentors, who are all UCCS students.

     This fall, there will be volunteer positions available to students interested in running homework groups and helping with other activities, as well as four paid mentor positions.

     Lara said mentors need to be able to readily adapt to the needs of individual students.

     “I just saw how passionate they were about being in college and how passionate their families were, that I just really wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

     Lara added that getting to know the students and the campus and being able to help support students with varying needs is the most rewarding part of her job.

     “Students have been just awesome—super welcoming, very accommodating and professors at UCCS have written us to tell us how much it has benefi ted their class to have these students a part of what they’re doing,” Kasa said.

     To fill out an application to volunteer or be hired as a mentor, visit the Office of Inclusive Service’s website at uccs.edu.