BOONE, N.C. — For students in Appalachian State University’s Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program (SDAP), a campus job is a core part of the educational experience — and an opportunity to build work and life skills in a supportive environment.
SDAP is designed to provide students with intellectual disabilities access to an inclusive college educational experience that encompasses academic, social, personal and career development. Upon completing the two-year, non-degree program, SDAP Scholars receive a Collegiate Achievement Award.
As a required component of the program, each SDAP student is employed for five to 20 hours per week. Additionally, students take six to nine hours of classes, attend a required study hall with tutoring and academic support and participate in a basic skills class to support independent living skills.
“Graduates of our program are prepared to secure employment in fields meaningful to them,” said Anna Ward, director of SDAP, which is jointly supported by the university’s Reich College of Education (RCOE) and University College. “Working on campus contributes to their success. Research indicates getting a job post-graduation is correlated with having prior work experiences.”
For the 2019–20 academic year, 10 students are enrolled in the program and all have campus jobs — employed in Appalachian’s Campus Dining, Belk Library and Information Commons, Plemmons Student Union, Student Recreation Center, RCOE and/or Career Development Center. In addition to their paid jobs, some of the students participate in career development experiences on campus, in units such as the Multicultural Center, Women’s Center and Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT).
Ward said it is easier for students to meet the employment requirements of the program with on-campus jobs. “We have a complete infrastructure to support the students,” she said. “Then, once students establish basic job skills on campus, we can support our students in finding employment opportunities off campus and at home.”
A model of inclusion
“Inclusion is a goal of the university and is the underpinning of Appalachian’s SDAP,” Ward said. “Perceptions of people with disabilities, like most marginalized populations, can be biased. Our students are integrated into as many areas of college life as the degree-seeking students — including work experiences. We see people change their perceptions about those with disabilities and become more open-minded and aware of their perceptions of all people.”
“Employment gives the SDAP student a sense of confidence and competence,” said Brad Vest, associate director of the Plemmons Student Union, who has employed several SDAP students since the program began.
“Hiring those with disabilities promotes a culture of inclusiveness, which often leads to higher employee morale and improves overall productivity,” Vest added.
Pam Cline, director of campus dining at Appalachian, said employing students with different backgrounds and experiences is beneficial because of the perspective and feedback they provide. SDAP students who work for the university’s Campus Dining are provided on-the-job training and mentorship from full-time staff members, using the same process used for all student employees, Cline added.
Ward said while interns and graduate assistants working with the SDAP students occasionally check in on the students in their work environments, there is less need for the program volunteers to assist in the work setting because of the willingness of campus employers and the other student co-workers to train and support SDAP students in the jobs they hold.
Two SDAP Scholars share what the Appalachian Experience means to them.
Anna Ward: So, the Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program, otherwise known as SDAP, is a program set up for people with intellectual disabilities. They come to the university for two years and it’s inclusive. These students have challenges in areas of academics and in areas…sometimes of social skills, or things that a lot of us take for granted in terms of day-to-day routine. So, I’d say what we really want for our students, the over-arching goal, is that they develop skills in self-advocacy and self-determination, so that when they finish they are able to communicate about themselves, talk about what they’re good at, and where they have challenges, and feel okay doing that. And then to learn how to make their own decisions, appropriate decisions, that will lead them to a more independent life. So, students with intellectual disabilities, or any disability, tend to be very reliant on their families and the families are strong advocates for them. We hear a lot of families who after high school they’re thinking, ‘Wow! What’s going to happen to my child?’ So when families come to us, they’re really seeking a way for their children to transition into a better life.
Victoria Hall:Before I came to SDAP it was really hard, but then I started loving it because I love to come here for school.
Louise Hall: Well, I think she wants her independence. She would like to learn the skills, so that she can go out and get a job. She’s very social, she likes people. She wants to meet more people and do different things with them. So this way she can broaden her interests just like any other freshman that comes to college, so that she’ll learn things that she may want to do in her life that thus far she hasn’t thought of.
VH:At first, I was a bit nervous. But then I met some old friends, so I started hanging out with them. They’re cool and funny; they make me laugh. When they see me, they call me Queen Victoria.
Robert Evans: I think the first day Robert I was shy; I wasn’t very open to people. Robert today, I’m just being myself and telling it how it is.
Delphine Anderson: Robert hopes to learn, here at Appalachian, more than anything how to survive in the real world. This should teach him how to get along with people, how to meet different people, how to interact with different people, because he has a nice personality, he’s a good person, he’s a learner, he wants to learn.
RE: Well, I think my momma is very glad that I went to college and get to experience the college life and meet different people and make friends.
DA: You know, he doesn’t want to be known as being different. He wants the same opportunities as everybody else, but he doesn’t want anything given to him. It gives them a goal that, ‘I can do this. If I work hard, I can be just like her. If that’s what I want, that means I’ve got to work twice as hard and I can do it.’ That’s why I think this program, the way it’s set up, it’s going to give them hope and that’s what everybody needs to be a better person.
AW: The student supports that are volunteers come in huge numbers, and we have over a hundred and if we break that down on a weekly basis, there are up to ten people working with each individual in the program per week.
Miriam Stapp: The volunteers that work with SDAP…I’ve been amazed to see how many there are on campus. So many students want to get involved, want to help, want to learn, want to be friends with the scholars in the program. They could be walking a scholar to a class to show them where the classroom is, it could be meeting them for lunch, just hanging out, talking, being friends really.
RE: I always have a volunteer, or someone to come with me to take notes or if I need other help in the classroom I’ve always got somebody in class to help me.
MS: Appalachian talks about diversity a lot, as do many college campuses. We can learn about disability rights, minority rights, all the different aspects there are to diversity. You can learn about them all day in a class room, but to truly understand the importance of diversity you have to have relationships with people who belong to those minorities. SDAP strives really hard to integrate community into the scholars lives, and I think the scholars and the other students of Appalachian both benefit a lot from that.
RE: Well, I’d like to thank my momma and I’d like to give a big thank you to the SDAP staff to give me the opportunity to have the college experience.
An environment of support
Outside the workplace, SDAP relies on volunteer support within the program. This year, over 150 Appalachian students have stepped up to attend classes with the SDAP students, join them at meals and support them in activities common to all college students — attending football games, studying, doing laundry, shopping and just hanging out.
DeAnna Head, a senior elementary education major from Goldsboro, has served as an SDAP volunteer since January 2018. “I’ve tried to make sure the students’ college experience was as smooth and fun as it could be, providing a support system for them,” she said.
Head added, “My involvement with SDAP has contributed to my own education and career goals as well. I want to work with students with disabilities, and by volunteering, I’ve gotten to see the world through the eyes of someone with a disability — and have seen all the amazing things they can achieve.”
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About the Reich College of Education
Appalachian offers one of the largest undergraduate teacher preparation programs in North Carolina, graduating about 500 teachers a year. The Reich College of Education enrolls approximately 2,400 students in its bachelor's, master's, education specialist and doctoral degree programs. With so many teacher education graduates working in the state, there is at least one RCOE graduate teaching in every county in North Carolina. Learn more at https://rcoe.appstate.edu.
About University College
Formed in 2007, University College consists of the university’s general education program, faculty and student support, and co-curricular programming and support – all designed to support the work of students both inside and outside the classroom. All students at Appalachian begin their education in University College and benefit from its programs until they graduate. Learn more at https://universitycollege.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.