BOONE — For students in Appalachian State University’s Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program, 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 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.
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.”
“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.
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.”