Think College has started several new initiatives to expand opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Danie Roberts-Dahm, the Project Coordinator for the Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network, shares how Think College is changing the narrative about college for youth with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Roberts-Dahm discusses the Think College Network’s six key initiatives: public awareness, state and regional alliance development and support, Career and Technical Education efforts, employment partnerships, training development, and membership organization. Parents and teachers will learn how they can become part of these opportunities and share their own stories with others.
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If you know, you know, and that's great, but so many people don't know, it's so true. I don't know, we have a targeted campaign at the K 12 level really focusing on educators from kindergarten to transition-age that students with intellectual disabilities can go to college and be successful. And then also we're targeting higher ed admin to to open the doors to their college or university community college or career and technical center and support students with intellectual disabilities so they can be successful.
You just heard Dr. Danie Roberts-Dahm, who is the Project Coordinator for the Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network, and she is going to share with us all the exciting new initiatives that think college is working on. So if you have a child who has an intellectual disability, and has always wanted to go to college, or if you teach students with intellectual disabilities, and they're talking about wanting to go to college and pay close attention to today's podcast, because you're going to learn all of the new initiatives that think college is developing that will be especially helpful across the country as they build new infrastructure at the state and local level for families and schools so that everybody who's interested can plan for college. So welcome to College Disabilities and Success with Mickie Hayes, Episode 69. What's New at Think College with Dr. Danie Roberts-Dahm. The opinions in this podcast are my own. Please reach out to your college physician or legal services for additional information.
Well, hi, everybody. I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Danie Roberts-Dahm from Think College. Danie will be able to give you some information if you have a student or a child with an intellectual disability who is interested in attending college. So from Think College. Hi, Danie, it's nice to see you again.
Hi, Mickie. It's great to see you, too. Thanks for having me.
Could you take a moment and tell the audience about yourself and how you got into supporting students with intellectual disabilities? and share what you're doing now?
Sir Mickie. That'd be great. Thanks for the introduction of like, Mickie said, my name is Dr. Danny Roberts DOM. Right now, I'm the project coordinator for the Think College inclusive, Higher Education Network project, and that's the newest project and the Think College umbrella. I'll tell you more about that later. But I've known Mickie for quite a while we go way back in inclusive post-secondary ed and supporting students with intellectual disabilities to go to college. We started the work and I started at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg campus back in 2009. As a graduate research assistant, working in transition, and we started an inclusive post-secondary program, there was a dual enrollment or a concurrent enrollment program, where we had students from our local school district with intellectual disability during their transition years coming to campus and taking classes and making friends, joining clubs and getting jobs. And that was a pivotal point in my career thinking I was going on as an English professor, in my future to really look into this field, I was an elementary ed Special Ed major, originally, and had so much fun working with students with intellectual disabilities in various capacities, that it really changed my career trajectory, to look more at secondary transition, and especially working with students with intellectual disability. So fast forward a couple of years, I, you know, went on to run that program for a couple years helped other programs develop across the state of Florida, and then eventually started a full scale program at the university, where we had students actually living on campus. And it was a completely post-secondary program approved by the state of Florida with the Florida post-secondary comprehensive transition program. So I've worked kind of in every area of inclusive post-secondary ed from a mentor to a mentor coordinator to employment services to director and administrator and outreach. So really excited to be working at the national level now, and helping new programs come on board supporting families and students to know that college is an option for people with intellectual disabilities. So that's what I'm doing these days. Very good.
Well, I had interviewed Cate Weir from Think College back in episode number 40. And she gave us a lot of insights about Think College, and what their initiatives were, and how parents and teachers can reach out to learn more information about their young adults heading to college, even though they have an intellectual disability. So how is your initiative now that you're doing a part of the Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network?
That's great. Well, Cate is our senior advisor on the new Inclusive Higher Education Network. And we're like I said, one of the projects under the Think College umbrella, there's actually six of them, believe it or not, the National Coordinating Center and the Inclusive Higher Education Network are both national technical assistance and training centers. And technical assistance is a fancy word for support, whatever you need, we're here for you, it's our job to figure it out with you and, you know, hold hands and support and provide information. And so we work at a national level that we are based out of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, the Institute for Community Inclusion. And so I said, we have a ton of information on our website, no matter who you are, whether you're college personnel or staff that wants to start a program or has a program and wants to improve it, whether you're a family member that is starting to think about college, and you have a young person with an intellectual disability in your life, whether you're a student, and you want to know what that looks like and see other students like you that are going to college and doing it. So we really have something for everyone out there. Some areas that are new with this new National Technical Assistance Center, the Think College Network, I'll just call it the network, probably from now on. Kind of a mouthful. Really, it's a network because we're trying to build that infrastructure out there. There are currently 314 programs nationally that support students with intellectual disabilities to go to college. And as part of the network, we want to support those programs, which thing colleges already doing, but just add more people and personnel to our networks to be able to provide that support. But we also want to build some infrastructure state and regional infrastructure. Nationally, right now, there are only two regional alliances one in the southeast called the southeast post-secondary ed Alliance, and one in the Midwest called the Midwest Post-secondary Alliance. And so there's this whole rest of the nation that needs a regional hub to connect with think colleges nationally there. And we tried to provide that localized support. But we're trying to build that capacity on a more local level. So it's more economical, they know the local climate and culture and policy to support these programs. And we're also trying to support state alliances to form and really just to help with the sustainability of this momentum of inclusive post-secondary ed.
So if a parent wants to get something going at their college in their local area, they would reach out to you to get information about that.
Yeah, absolutely. So we have these two centers now. But the big idea is to contact me or contact anybody with anything College, and we'll get you to the right person to give you the resources and information and connections to help you do what you want to do. Whether it's developing a program, finding an existing program, just know a little bit more about looking for existing programs are here for you.
Very good. Now you have several other initiatives that you're doing in your network. Am I correct?
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Mickie. One is public awareness. So if you know, you know, and that's great.
But so many people don't know,
We have a targeted campaign at the K 12. Level, I'm really focusing on educators from kindergarten to transition age, that students with intellectual disabilities can go to college and be successful. And then also, we're targeting higher ed admin to to open the doors to their college or university community college or career and technical center, and support students with intellectual disabilities so they can be successful. So those are our two primary targets for this first year. So but really the public awareness campaign, we're thinking big with it. We're thinking television, radio, social media, print, anywhere that we can find, we're going to try to spread the word, even with like pediatrics and the medical community that are when a student is first diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability, to change the narrative that there are a lot of opportunities for them long term and to look forward to and they can start planning for colleges as babies just like many young people do. Sure. So changing the expectations. And that's, you know, that's a big, big scope of work, but we have to address the public awareness piece of it. So we're really excited and we're going to be gathering footage and engaging with the public to get stories. That's what's changing. The narrative is sharing stories. So if you if you follow us on any social media or join our listserv, you'll start to see announcements where we'll be recruiting for people to be a part of public that our public awareness campaign about thinking college for students with intellectual disabilities.
So if any of the teachers in particular or even parents out there who have a child nailed, who has seen some success in a program or is ready to head off to college and wants to do some narrative for you to do a little video for you or to share their story with you, that would be a good opportunity for them to get in touch with you.
Absolutely, yeah, send me an email reach out in any way you you feel compelled. And that would be great. That's exactly what we're looking for.
Okay, good. And I'll make sure that all of the links and emails and contact information are in the show notes at the end of this podcast,
Mickie, another exciting addition with the network project that we're focusing on, is a focus on career and technical education. Right now, many of the programs out there, as I said, there's 314 programs out there, which is only sounds like a lot, but it's only about 6% of institutions of higher ed out there. So we've got a lot of work to do to get more options. But we're really looking to expand some of our opportunities for young people or people with intellectual disability to go to the Career and Technical Education CTE programs. Right now, there's only like a handful or two, maybe two, maybe a dozen programs out there nationally that are supporting students. And it's just really has a lot of potential. So we actually have a collaborative workgroup coming up really focused on that over the next three years and expanding options, building a how to guide sharing experiences and successes from those that are doing it. And Dr. Drew Andrews is heading up that collaborative workgroup. And I think you're talking to him sometime soon.
Well, I will be talking to Dr. Andrews, next time, so excellent. We'll be able to know more about the technical education piece of it. Because so many of the students with intellectual disabilities need the technical skills and training that these programs would offer.
Right and talk about a meaningful credential. I mean, that's really transferable to the workforce and is very meaningful to employers. I was just
going to ask you, do you have employer partnerships that you're working on as well?
Yeah, absolutely. That's the other workgroup that we're working on cultivating through the network. We have a collaborative workgroup focused on employment partnerships, and it's headed up by the Virginia Commonwealth University's our RTC group, Jacqueline Candids, the lead for that workgroup. And what we're really looking at there is helping put together resources, success stories and strategies for navigating the different entities that can support people with disabilities, particularly intellectual disability, to transition from whether it's high school or college to the world of work and be supported by the multiple systems that can support that, whether it's vocational rehabilitation, developmental disability agencies, and then also that employer engagement piece. So there's so many numbers of systems and supports, but being able to have those partners work together. And also that is huge. And also getting the breakdown of who does what for for students and families to know. So they can navigate those systems that are
that's that is very, very important, because the end goal of all of this is to employment.
Yeah. And we have some stellar employment outcomes from these programs. And so we just want to keep that going and figure out how to best support programs to support students to get jobs, sustainable life changing economically, you know, trajectory, changing jobs for the young people.
Wonderful, because that is the reality. That's, that's what we're all looking towards, is employment. Yeah. How about training? What kind of training initiatives do you have going?
Right, so we're working with our sister project, the National Coordinating Center, we already have a lot of online learning modules available. We have ones focused specifically on families and how they can think about college and plan. We're really focused in the next year or so on developing alliances and having supports for state alliances and regional alliances to develop and sustain. So a lot of our training is around that. We're also working on faculty and instructional-focused resources. So faculty can be equipped to support students with diverse abilities in their college courses. But we have a lot of existing resources to thinking about families and students and teachers. We have like one of my favorite go-to is a student planning guide where they can start in their own words, planning for college and this has some tips for students from existing college students with intellectual disabilities. It's really graphic and awesome and it's also downloadable and printable. Is that a link you could share with me? Absolutely. I will do that. And then we have a lot of searchable resource courses and we have information on just how to start developing independence like ways to think about that as a family. Also the differences between high school and college, it's something that you just wouldn't even think about addressing till you're on a college campus and you're confused and like, why is this like this? Exactly? Transition resources on our web, right?
That was my original focus when I first started this podcast, because I came out of the college system. But I was also a high school teacher for a number of years. And I knew that so many of the students that we saw at the colleges, were shocked to find out how different things were. Oh, so that's my primary purpose is helping those students know what they're stepping into, be prepared for the differences, because there are so many differences on whether you're a student with a learning disability, or any other kind of disability or an intellectual disability, you're still walking into a new world, and you have to know what you're walking into. And I think that's just critical.
Oh, I totally agree, Mickie.
So I see you also have a membership organization. Could you talk about that for a while?
Sure. So with the network, that Inclusive Higher Education Network, our focus is developing a membership organization to support long-term sustainability of these programs. And the professionals and families that are interested in are engaged in these programs. And the students, of course, so currently, we're really fortunate to have some federal funding to support the centers and all of this great information and connections and networking opportunities and events. So long term, we know we need to develop some type of infrastructure and sustainability. And the way that we'll do that is through a membership organization structure. So we're putting those bones into place right now. And that's why we named this project, the Inclusive Higher Education Network, because it's very much inclusive, engaging, it takes you, me, all of us to get together and be keeping the resource sharing and the information sharing, and the networking alive. And so that will eventually transition into the membership network, all of the work that the network is doing. The other part of that is that regional and state Alliance building that we're doing, you know, that sounds like really high systems level work. And it is, but eventually, it's so that a student, a family, a teacher, a program has somewhere locally to connect to at the state level, at the regional level, and then at the national level.
So Danie, could you tell us any examples, in your experiences, how college changed the life of a young person with an intellectual disability? There are so many advantages and new experiences that the student faces when they head to college that opens up a whole new world for these young adults. Can you share any stories that you know of?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know, and you see such a change in students like from the day that they're, they come to campus during orientation, and their first week on on, you know, college campus. To the end of the first semester, there's such a change, and even hearing it from families of, wow, they have just learned so many problem solving and life skills and independence and self-advocacy, even at you know, the Thanksgiving break. In the fall semester, we're already getting a lot of emails and notes from families about just the difference, the difference they're seeing in independence and maturity and just deep, deep thinking and problem solving for these young adults. But thinking about a few students that have graduated, we're in one of our early programs, it really just opens up their world of possibilities. I know we I have two former students who are getting married this year. One has a child, they've been through many job changes, and moved up ladders and in corporate scenarios, or realizes that I don't have to stay in one job for the rest of my life, I have options and I can reach out to support, whether it's VR or other services to help navigate life outside of my family and make their own way. And I think they learned about a lot of that while they were on campus and the connections they made. For one I still stay in contact with both of these young people. But I know the people that were meant the peers that were mentors to them are still seeing them in the community or they keep in touch on social media, just like a traditional college student does. And just seeing those connections and just seeing how their world opened up. And the opportunities opened up for them has been huge for many of the students.
Yeah, it's, it's in so many cases, parents and students, they really don't know what they're walking into. When they had to college, because the students have been in a very protected environment for a long time, what do you find challenging about just the day to day independence that some of the kids face?
That's a really good question. You know, I think it's, it's constantly a balance of ensuring students have the supports they need, but not that we're over supporting them that they're, we're giving them chances to figure things out to you or to run into some issues and learn from them and realize that's okay. It's okay to get it wrong the first time, because you're going to really know it better next time, you're going to know this the process or what to do, I think removing that bubble that we have to live in and letting people have that dignity of risk and experiences that we a lot of us had in college and making mistakes even, you know, learning everybody does. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But also making sure they're supported to and they're not, you know, completely failing that they do have that, and that they know they can come to somebody and who to go to, to.
That's why these programs are so important, because they're not out there alone, they have a support system built in, right, that's critical to having a good college program,
right. And then helping students access all the amenities and the supports and services that are on college campuses. Today. There's the mental wellness, there's all the fun stuff, and just ensuring students are accessing those services and supports and know how to do that. And a lot of times, it's beyond just saying, oh, you know, the counseling centers over there. It's, you know, having a peer maybe to go with them to a support group, or just being there to figure out what level of support a student needs to access the existing supports that are on a college campus.
I think as you said before college changes your life, it really does. And for the students with intellectual disabilities, it's such a gift and opportunity that thing college is offering the students this chance to expand their possibilities and their network s expanding their network. That's critical, critical. We all have a network. I mean, if anybody's listening to my podcast, Danie and I go way back, I have so many people that I've been able to talk to that I've known for a long time, who do do such good work like Dr. Danie Roberts-Dahm has done. But I've also met people that I did not know that expanded my world in the things that they're doing. There's a episode here, I'll have to look up the number, where I interviewed Donald Bailey is the father who started the South Carolina programs. It's episode number 46. It's called "Don't Give Up, Mom and Dad with Donald Bailey". And he helped establish the programs in South Carolina. I've just met so many people through this podcast that I didn't know personally, there's a whole world out there and you can build that network of friends. In your child with an intellectual disability, your student with an intellectual disability can start to build their own networks of contacts and friends. Absolutely, absolutely. So what else do you have coming soon? You said you have some other conferences happening?
Yeah, yeah, we do. We have. Regionally in the southeast, there is the southeast postsecondary out Alliance, their annual conference, it's in June, June 23, through 25th, in Auburn, Alabama, and that actually kicks off with a college fair. And so all the IPSE programs IPSE is what we call the Inclusive Post-secondary Ed. Those are the programs for students with intellectual disabilities,
IPSE - all of those programs will be having a booth and bringing their materials out. So it's like a one-stop shop for parents and families and students and most of all, to go through the college fair and see what's available. There is also on a national level if you're not in the southeast, the state of the art Conference, which is State of the Art Conference on intellectual disability and post secondary education is in Syracuse this year are in October and October 19 through 20th. And they also have a college fair the night before the 18th. And my understanding, it's been a few years since I've been, and I'm really excited to go and they'll have a pretty big college fair there. So that's a really great opportunity again, for students and families to get a sense of what's out there on a national level.
Very good as we're wrapping things up, could you take a few minutes and share your email with everybody and also, is there anything that you want to add to today's episode?
Sure, you know, I was thinking about teachers and wanting to know a little bit more about supporting students with intellectual disabilities to think college, we have a couple of affinity groups, which are sort of like special interest groups or professional learning communities. But I think they're more fun actually. Because there's not necessarily so much work, you can just join when you can see past meetings, and so on and so forth. We have a number of different topics. But some that might be interesting to teachers could be the technology and Universal Design for Learning affinity group, we also have one on employment support. And then we also have an emerging advocates group, which is could be for students even in high school. And that's a really awesome opportunity too, so I will send you the link, Mickie, to put in the show notes for the affinity groups, they're really a great way to build a network, or expand your network, like you were talking about earlier.
And that's all online. So anybody can go in and join and be part of it. Yeah. Excellent. Excellent.
You know, the other thing I was thinking I don't think I mentioned, but because we're federally grant-funded all of our resources, training, technical assistance, and support is free. And I hate to make myself sound cheap. I always say we're complementary. Complementary. That's right. You know, we're federally funded. So we have a lot of amazing resources on our website. And there are people literally me and to my whole team, that are, it's our job to support you all teachers, families, parents, so please reach out. If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does or know something about it. And whether it's on our team or in our inclusive post secondary ed network. So please reach out, we want to talk to you, we want to spread the word that college is an option for students with intellectual disabilities, you can reach me my email is email@example.com And that'll be in the show notes. And our website is thinkcollege.net.
All right, and that will be in the show notes as well. Danie, thank you very much. This has been a delight. And I am just so so thrilled that you took some time out to meet with me and share what you're doing within college because I know what we've done in the past together. When Danie and I worked at University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, we did a whole lot of work, growing the programs, a whole lot of work locally. And throughout the state of Florida. I was so happy to see that you moved on to think college, because you have so much to offer these families and teachers and young adults with intellectual disabilities who want to grow a future. That's what we're doing. We're helping them grow a future. So thank you for that. And thank you for taking the time to see me today, as well. Wonderful.
Thank you, Mickie, I just appreciate the opportunity and helping spread the word about these options. Really appreciate it. Great to see you.
Very good. I'll see you later. Bye. I want to thank Dr. Danie Roberts-Dahm, for joining me today, she has given you so much information about all of their new initiatives, and programs. If you have any questions at all, feel free to reach out to Danie at her email that she provided. Or you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's M I C K i e email@example.com. You can also stop by the website, mickieteaches.com. And check out the resources that I have there as well. Thank you so much for joining us today. And I look forward to seeing you next week when we take this one step further. And we talk about what Florida has done in terms of career and technical education for students with intellectual disabilities and how you can take that information and help to build new programs through Danny in her initiatives across the United States. Right now Florida is leading all of the states in the number of career and technical resources that they have available. And so next week's podcast with Dr. Drew Andrews will follow up on what Danie has presented today. So have a great rest of the day. And thank you so much again for joining us! bye! The information contained throughout this podcast has been gleaned from my own personal experiences, but to ensure accuracy please contact the Disability Services at the college of your choice to have first-hand information and the most up-to-date policies and procedures followed for your particular institution of higher education. The content in any of these podcasts is not intended as a substitute for information from legal, educational or medical professionals. Always seek the advice of your attorney or qualified health care provider with any questions you may have with regards to illegal educational or medical concerns. Good evening
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