In the fall, Texas A&M University will start a new program to better serve Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Aggie ACHIEVE will gives these students access to a full university experience – something not often available to them. They’ll reside on campus, attend classes alongside fellow Aggies, and will have a personalized education plan geared toward future employment.
Carly Gilson, assistant professor of special education at Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development, says Aggie ACHIEVE will be academically rigorous, but will also give students extra support through counselors and peers.
“The overall objective is for all of our students to exit the program in four years having integrated employment in the community in a meaningful job of their choice,” Gilson says.
Gilson says students will get an authentic college experience. In addition to auditing courses and living on campus, she says they’ll hold internships and participate in clubs and organizations.
“We use a process called ‘person-centered planning’ where each student has an individualized curriculum that suits their goals, strengths and interests,” Gilson says.
Although the students won’t receive degrees, they will receive a certificate.
And participants will be paired with fellow students, called “ACHIEVEmates,” who will work alongside them in their classes.
Gilson says the program is modeled after other inclusivity programs like Next Steps at Vanderbilt University. There are other similar programs in Texas, but AggieACHIEVE will be the first four-year residential one.
Five students will be part of the first cohort in fall 2019. But Gilson says that number could double in the future.
Gilson says the program will make higher education in Texas more inclusive for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And greater diversity will also benefit the rest of the student population.
“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are an important part of our community, but often times, especially in higher education settings, they have been overlooked and living in the shadows,” Gilson says. “The A&M students [will] be able to have these opportunities to grow alongside an important segment of our population.”
Written by Geronimo Perez.