The Munroe-Meyer Institute has partnered with the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) to pilot a post-secondary education program for students with intellectual/developmental disabilities.
The national program Think College, which facilitates college options for people with IDD, provided MMI with a start-up grant of $20,000 to get the program up and running.
The program’s first student, Dillon Denton, 25, is now a bona-fide UNO Maverick.
“I’m liking it a lot,” Denton said.
“Individuals with disabilities want to go to college just like everybody else,” said Rachel Ray, who is overseeing the program for MMI’s University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service (UCEDD). “We’ve got a student who’s interested in filmmaking, we have a student starting in the spring who wants to be a sports journalist.”
Ray called Denton a trailblazer, paving the way for the program’s full rollout, with a cohort of five students, next fall. She already has a list of 185 interested potential students.
Ray praised UNO’s efforts to enable Denton to enjoy the full college experience.
“He is fully included into everyday life at campus,” she said. “He’s integrated into two classes, we have him connected with an internship, and he’s joined two student groups.”
Cathy Pettid, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students, said UNO is excited to be taking part in the program.
“This is part of our mission of inclusion, engagement and commitment to the accessibility of our campus and academic programs,” she said. “It's heartwarming to see how Dillon is doing. I know the faculty members in his two classes were very welcoming and didn't hesitate to allow him to audit.”
Denton is not a traditional student, Ray said – he is auditing the two classes on criminal justice and drug awareness, and she is on campus to help him during his class time. He will get a certificate of completion instead of a degree.
“But the program will get him the educational experience that college brings you, leading to competitive employment,” Ray said. “He has an interest in criminal justice and police force work, so he is going to help me with the crisis intervention training that we do for area law enforcement. He also is going to go to high schools with me to train students with disabilities on how to interact with law enforcement as part of his internship.”
UNO is open to discussions about expanding the program, Pettid said.
“We want to make sure we have everything in place to support the students,” she said. “It does take a village, and there are many departments who worked together to make this happen. We want to be sure we have a coordinated effort so that the success can continue.”
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.