As part of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 Opportunity Across America Tour, Sue Swenson, acting assistant secretary, Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), and Ruth Ryder, acting director, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), visited the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston on Wednesday. They were joined by staff from multiple projects at the ICI as well as staff from Mass Advocates for Children, several college students with disabilities, and MA state representative Tom Sannicandro. A priority of the #OpportunityTour is to promote equity and excellence at every level of education to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed.
Bill Kiernan, director of ICI and dean of the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development,provided an overview of the school and some accomplishments of the ICI. Dr. Meg Grigal and Debra Hart, co-directors of ICI project Think College, and principal investigators at the Institute for Community Inclusion, introduced the scope and respective impacts of the Think College projects related to access to postsecondary education for students with disabilities.
Cate Weir, project coordinator of the National Coordinating Center for Think College, presented trends over the last five years and goals of the center. Additionally, Martha Mock, the principal investigator of the New York Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with ID (TPSID) at the University of Rochester, and Cori Piels, a graduate of Monroe Community College in NY, presented on what makes a successful, inclusive postsecondary program.
Other presenters included Lori Cooney, project coordinator for Future Quest Island (FQI), an OSEP funded Stepping-up in Technology Grant. Two teachers who have piloted Future Quest Island with students with and without disability were also in attendance and spoke to the effectiveness of this web-based college and career preparation program for middle school students. Dr. Maria Paiewonsky presented on I3-funded Think College Transition Project and the OSEP-funded Transition Leadership Project.
Finally, Julia Landau from Mass Advocates for Children and State Representative Tom Sannicandro led a panel with students and a parent. Maximo Pimental and Brian Heffernan, both college alumni with intellectual disabilities, and Brian’s father, Dan Heffernan, shared their experiences in high school, and planning for and attending inclusive postsecondary programs.
Throughout the day, professionals and researchers presented on the importance of access to inclusive higher education and shared data to support the range of positive outcomes for students who attend inclusive postsecondary education programs. A compelling element of the day was the reflections of students and family members, who shared the challenges they faced when seeking to pursue higher education, and ultimately the great pride they felt about achieving their dreams.