Students with intellectual or developmental disabilities will be able to enjoy the full UGA experience with the launch of an inclusive post-secondary education program, Destination Dawgs, beginning in spring 2017.
The program, housed within the College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ Institute on Human Development and Disability, aims to assist those students’ transition into adulthood by fully immersing them in UGA life.
Destination Dawgs aspires to have students reside in on-campus housing, attend classes or be included in UGA courses and be supported by peer mentors who will assist the students in courses and on campus to improve their independent living skills.
“The goal is for Destination Dawgs participants to come out of the program with a platform for getting a good job and for leading a good adult life,” said Carol Britton Laws, an assistant clinical professor and coordinator of UGA’s Disability Studies Certificate program within the institute. “The unemployment rate for people with disabilities nationally is about 75 percent, and we’re trying to help students build skills and gain experiences that are marketable.”
Laws envisions a five-semester model with a small cohort of five students enrolling in the program in spring 2017.
Because students won’t enter the program through the regular admissions process, they will receive a certificate of completion rather than a degree.
Five students from throughout Georgia participated July 15-17 in the inaugural Destination Dawgs Summer Leadership Institute, a prerequisite for the Destination Dawgs program. Implemented by UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a public service and outreach unit, the summer program helped those students learn what it’s like to be a college student.
They lived in residence halls and experienced three days of typical campus activities, including eating in the dining halls and riding on UGA buses. They were able to chat with and learn from UGA students and participate in sessions with peer mentors.
The emphasis on developing and expanding post-secondary education opportunities in the state can be traced back to the founding of the Georgia Inclusive Postecondary Education Consortium in 2011, which seeks to create opportunities for students who historically have not had access to postsecondary educational opportunities. The consortium is partly funded by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Destination Dawgs will receive startup funding for five years from the U.S. Department of Education in the form of a Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities grant awarded to Georgia State University in partnership with UGA and eight other colleges. The current grant will allow for a part-time program coordinator, but additional funds will be necessary to support the program, and the students, in the future.
“These types of programs can be really expensive for families, and we don’t want it to be a program that’s only available to those who can afford it,” Laws said.