By Justin Anderson and Natalie Nix, social media interns
For people with intellectual disabilities, a college education can seem an unlikely option. But a new program at Utah State University is giving eight students the opportunity to enroll in a two year certification program in which students will learn skills they need to live independently, continue their education, and find employment they enjoy successfully.
Aggies Elevated, which is one of fewer than 250 post-secondary education transition programs nationwide, is the first of its kind in the state of Utah.The program is run by the Center for Persons with Disabilities (CPD) located on campus.
A post-secondary transition program is a program that aids students coming from school-district special education services to higher education or employment. A program like this only exists at 5 percent of colleges nationwide.
This is the first semester that Aggies Elevated has been up and running. In the few short weeks since the beginning of the semester, Aggies Elevated students have been very active on campus. Two in particular, Amity and Natalie, have been busy joining clubs and writing songs about their experiences.
Amity and Natalie are roommates this semester and met through Aggies Elevated.
Amity, who is from Spanish Fork, Utah, has grown accustomed to using her creative side to help her to relieve stress, and it has been a huge help for her during this semester.
As an avid singer/songwriter, she writes songs about everyday life, from different successes she has had to the frustrations that come from attending college.
“I have like seven binders full of songs that I’ve wrote,” she said.
Amity hopes to study music education so she can pursue a career as a choir teacher.
“I really want to learn how to put a choir together. I was in a choir in high school, and I loved it, the way that he taught it was incredible,” she said referring to her teacher.
Natalie, another student in the Aggies Elevated program, grew up in Tooele, Utah. She attended Blue Peak High School, which is where she first learned about Aggies Elevated from one of her teachers.
As she visited the “day on the quad” actividy she joined four on campus clubs at USU: The Anime Club, The Renaissance Club, The Asian Club and The Video-Game Club.
Natalie has so enjoyed finding students at USU that share her interests. After signing up for her clubs she ran into the CPD building and told one of her mentors “I found people just like me!”
Natalie excels in art and has the ability to draw things very quickly with a high level of detail. After drawing her different pictures, often she creates youtube videos to show her work or posts them to her “deviantart” profile, a website that allows users to share their art with other users who like the same style. She also hopes to be able to harness her natural talent and start a career in graphic design following the completion of her program.
“Anything I can draw, I’m happy,” Natalie said, for her drawing is an outlet, a stress relief and a way to help her deal with the challenges that everybody faces in a university setting.
Natalie and Amity are just two of many examples of the success of the Aggies Elevated program. They show in word and deed the oft-repeated sentence that Sue Reeves, public relations specialist for the CPD says.”Aggies Elevated are not ‘them;’ they are us.’”
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Aggies Elevated at Utah State University believes that all individuals, regardless of ability, have the right to meaningful employment, lifelong learning, self-determination and full community inclusion. Utilizing the MyCLIMB (My Career Ladder to Independence, Maturity & Balance) person-centered planning model, Aggies Elevated students, along with invited family members and/or other stakeholders, will chart their own paths toward independence within an individualized framework of supports that identifies challenges, builds on individual strengths and encourages personal responsibility.