New Program for Students With Intellectual Disabilities to Begin in Fall

l-r: Tom Smith, Ashley Bradley
University Relations

l-r: Tom Smith, Ashley Bradley

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas is taking applications for a new, non-degree, four-year college experience program for students with intellectual disabilities. The program will begin in the fall 2017 semester and will focus on preparing these students to make the transition to independent living and employment.

Tom Smith, a University Professor of special education and former dean of the College of Education and Health Professions, led the effort to develop the program. It is called EMPOWER, which stands for Educate, Motivate, Prepare, Opportunity, Workplace Readiness, Employment, Responsibility.

Smith said the program is not unique in the United States but will be the only one of its kind in Arkansas.

“When you talk about post-secondary education for individuals with intellectual disabilities, some people always say that’s not really what college is for,” Smith said. “But, in my opinion, colleges and universities are for preparing people for adult life and, unfortunately, this segment of our population hasn’t had access to that.”

Ashley Bradley has been hired as director of the program. She begins work on May 15.

Bradley has worked for the Arkansas Support Network in Springdale since December 2010 and is currently director of case management. She has also worked part-time as lead therapist for Arkansas Autism Partnership in Springdale. She has a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders.

“Students will have an inclusive educational experience and be ready for employment after completing the program,” Bradley said. “EMPOWER gives opportunities to individuals with disabilities, and I am excited to be a part of that.”

Information on fees will be available next month.

EMPOWER students will take courses specifically designed to enhance independence and employability, and they will also be able to audit regular university courses. They will have access to all services and programs available to U of A students, and graduate students in counseling and rehabilitation counseling will help to provide support. A mentorship program is also planned.

Internships will be a vital part of the program to help meet the goal of preparing students for jobs. Students will be placed in internships beginning with the junior year, culminating in a full-time internship their final semester.

Students will not go through the standard admission process for U of A undergraduates. Eligibility criteria include having been served in special education in public schools and having an Individualized Educational Program or similar programming in alternative settings.

Students should also display functional literacy and math skills and exhibit the necessary independent living skills required for them to live in an apartment setting on campus, or off campus, and navigate the campus and community. Letters of recommendation and an interview with program staff are also required.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Contacts

Tom Smith, University Professor of special education
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3326, tecsmith@uark.edu

Heidi Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3138, heidisw@uark.edu

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