Four students in WSU’s groundbreaking ROAR program are set to walk across the commencement stage in May, when they’ll be beaming realizations of WSU’s land grant ideals of access and service.
One of seven fully inclusive post-secondary education programs in the U.S., Roar is a two-year program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Nina Buckles-Ooldenburg, Evan Henniger, Lily Holston and Levi Pierce have discovered new horizons for their own futures and impacted the University community in profound ways.
“We’re wrapping up our first two years with our original cohort of students,” says ROAR director Don McMahon. “It’s been really rewarding. The rich community that is WSU has been our biggest classroom. They’ve welcomed our students and that’s been a real joy to see.”
The ROAR students are completing individualized programs of study in education, learning social skills and life skills. They’re auditing WSU courses in a wide array of colleges, with faculty welcoming them in and ROAR staff helping to curate the curriculum for the students. They receive job training and each student works as an intern on campus or in the community. And the students learn to live on campus independently, with help from peers (ROAR Allies) and the greater WSU community.
The ROAR staff is working to set students up for the next step after they’ve completed the two-year program. The students will meet in Walla Walla next month with companies like Microsoft to talk about the program and discuss employment opportunities. They’re also teaming up with Cougs First! Later this spring to explore opportunities with Coug-led companies.
McMahon says ROAR will be welcoming between 10 and 12 students in the next cohort beginning in the fall, bringing the total enrollment to about 20. Donors and sponsors have helped the program expand and faculty partners expand opportunities for the students.
“We’ve been really lucky that so many professors and instructors have opened up their classrooms across the WSU campus,” McMahon says. “Next year with a larger number of students coming in, we’re going to be looking for new audit classes, based on what they’re interested in, but also the instructor’s willingness to work with the ROAR staff to support our students and include them in classes.”
Awareness of the ROAR program is also key for growth. Students are needed to serve as ROAR Allies, and campus departments seeking interns may consider ROAR students.
“They’re not seen as mentors, they’re just truly friends to our students,” says Katie Hirschfelder, one of three graduate assistants working with ROAR students. “We have about 60 students that volunteer to be peer allies. They do all sorts of activities together. It would be nice to have faculty involved in that to showcase some more of the things going on around campus – things that faculty are doing that they can show our students.”
Graduate student Mykala Anglin works with ROAR student intern Zach Voight in the Assistive Technology Research and Development Lab in Cleveland Hall.
“I’m getting my master’s degree in special education and working with the ROAR students has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of working in a postsecondary program myself someday,” Anglin says. “And I’ve also just gained a lot of friendships. It’s been great to become a part of the (ROAR) community.”