I’ve Been Accepted … Now What?
An in-depth look at life for an On Campus Student
Upon acceptance, new students will receive an invitation to an orientation, which typically takes place in late summer. The purpose is to help familiarize them with the campus, and to give both the students and the staff a chance to get to know one another. Staff will discuss the range of course options available, as well as other activities which take place on campus such as fitness classes, clubs and study time in the library.
Many students who graduate from the special education system have a limited amount of exposure to different subject areas and activities, and as a result the first year is often spent exploring different interests and developing an awareness of the possibilities. This is also true of students who graduate from inclusive settings who may be interested in any number of interesting courses.
Students typically take fewer classes in the first year than in the fourth, but on average students attend three classes a semester. Classes range from music, dance, drama, art, sociology, criminology, animal science, botany, nursing and English, although this is by no means an exhaustive list. As well, the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation has proven exceptional at including On Campus students in everything from canoeing, football, dance and basketball, as well as course work in health education and physiology.
In addition to attending classes, On Campus students spend time reviewing their coursework with On Campus staff, working in the library, working out in the recreation center and meeting with classmates. The students’ schedules are model coherent with any university student's schedule—with the same combination of classes, breaks, study time, and time with friends. As well, the academic year for the On Campus student consists of a fall and winter semester, with work experience being the primary focus over the summer months. Many students are very successful at work and most students hold down more than one job over the summer.
Prior to each semester, our staff meets with On Campus students to discuss class choices. Once classes have been selected, we contact the professors or instructors to obtain permission to attend. After consent has been given, a staff member attends the first class to ask for volunteers to support the On Campus student who will be attending. The type of support required varies from student to student, but typically support can mean that the volunteer is someone to talk to in the class or to meet with for coffee or lunch. Two or three volunteers are usually involved so that a number of students get to know each other. These volunteers also stay in touch with the On Campus staff member and inform them of assignments, class cancellations or any issues which may arise. As some On Campus students have little experience being included with their peers who do not have developmental disabilities, the support required is often to understand the culture of a university classroom. Volunteers serve as a guide for the student whenever the need may arise.
On Campus staff also work with the professor or instructor to establish educational goals for the student that will be consistent with course content. These goals may be academic in nature as well as social or interpersonal, depending on the priorities of the student. The On Campus facilitator works with the student outside of class time to review coursework and support the student in completing any additional work that needs to be done. This creates a team that consists of the professor, the On Campus student, a program facilitator and the university student volunteer. They work together to ensure a valuable learning experience for everyone. Not surprisingly, many professors and instructors have reported that including the On Campus students is a benefit for everyone.
Involvement in clubs, associations and other groups is approached in much the same way. After an interest has been identified, the facilitator approaches the group about the involvement of a student and arranges the necessary, natural supports. Again, a team approach—which often involves the family’s support for evening and weekend involvement—maximizes the experience for everyone. Lasting friendships have developed between students and their peers who meet in a variety of ways.
As students progress through their four-year program of study, efforts are made to focus their coursework on an area of interest, although it does not mean courses are taken exclusively in one faculty. As well, attempts are made to secure relevant summer jobs to provide hands-on experience in these areas. Along with the social and interpersonal goals the students pursue, the combination of coursework, work experience and personal connections is to better enable the student to pursue a career in the field of their choice. One such example of this process is that of an On Campus student who refined her choices in her third year to courses in recreation and leisure. Her summer work experience was at a local swimming pool, and she continued to pursue this interest in her fourth and final year. Through her coursework, she not only became familiar with the terminology and issues of the field, but also got to know many of the future professionals in the recreation and leisure industry. Upon completion of University, she obtained employment in a Leisure Centre, with a reference and introduction from her employer from the previous summer.
It has become clear over the many years that On Campus has been in operation that there are benefits to be had not only for the On Campus students, but for the university community as well. Numerous other universities and colleges have studied the model developed by our program and have set up similar programs at their institutions. These include the University of Calgary, Grant MacEwan Community College, Lethbridge Community College, the University of Prince Edward Island, the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, and most recently the University of Manitoba. Additionally, visitors come yearly from around the world to learn more about inclusive post-secondary education and the potential it holds to improve not only the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, but the nature of our communities as a whole.