For many students with disabilities, college seems impossible and the opportunities offered by higher education seem closed off. For more than 30 years, the Teaching Learning Center (TLC) at Union College has been helping dispel these misconceptions and make college accessible.
Since April of this year, the TLC staff has been working on a project aimed to help students with disabilities successfully transition into high school and college.
The proposal is modeled after a Colorado program called LEAD which trains successful college students with learning challenges to inspire and work with students with similar challenges. Both groups of students, mentors and mentees, benefit from the program. Students entering high school or college learn strategies for success while the current college students improve their communication and leadership skills.
“The main goal is helping students increase their level of self-efficacy, the perception of their abilities,” said Debbie Forshee-Sweeney, director of the Teaching Learning Center. “A good sense of self is crucial to academic success.”
The Woods Charitable Fund, a private foundation that sponsors projects directly impacting the Lincoln community, has awarded a seven-month planning grant of $6,500 towards further development of the TLC’s idea. Most grants cover a time period of at least a year, but this is the first time the fund has awarded a grant for such a short time.
“A large aspect of the Woods Fund focuses on helping applicants organize and write grant proposals,” Forshee-Sweeney said. “We originally planned to apply for a three-year grant when they told us about this option. The planning grant will give our team more time to organize and collect information before we apply for the three-year grant.”
The team from Union College consists of Debbie Forshee-Sweeney, Ben Yancer and Elizabeth Anderson, and they are collaborating with five other agencies and organizations including Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) and LEAD. Eventually, students from Union College will work with students from LPS who are preparing to begin high school or college.
Next fall, after most of the planning has been done, the proposal will be presented at the Nebraska Department of Education Transition Summit. The plans that have been mapped out by the Union College team will possibly be available for use beyond Lincoln in a state-wide program.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity both for students here at Union College and for the students they’ll be inspiring,” Forshee-Sweeney said.