Although life for any college freshman comes with obstacles like finding a roommate and planning your schedule, for some students the biggest issue to overcome is simply finding a school with a program that supports their needs. For five Aggie freshmen, this issue was solved with the state’s first four-year college program of its kind.
Aggie ACHIEVE — Academic Courses in Higher Inclusive Education and Vocational Experiences — offers students with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to attend college among their peers. It was inspired by a Vanderbilt University program that was launched in 2010 called Next Steps. Vanderbilt graduate and Aggie ACHIEVE founder and faculty director Carly Gilson began the launch process with the Center on Disability and Development in 2017, and the initiative was approved in fall 2018.
“When I came here to Texas I realized that an initiative like Next Steps did not exist, so I worked with the Center of Disability and Development to start the proposal process for launching Aggie ACHIEVE,” Gilson said. “Aggie ACHIEVE is a four-year postsecondary opportunity for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to come to Texas A&M and partake in the Aggie experience alongside their peers.”
ACHIEVE students will live in the White Creek Apartments, participate in five hours of A&M coursework with other students and have the opportunity to integrate into the A&M community in many ways.
“Aggie ACHIEVE students will have the opportunity to join organizations that match their interests,” program director Olivia Robinson said. “We really want our ACHIEVE students to make friendships and relationships that they can carry with them after they leave A&M.”
For the first two years, ACHIEVE students will be introduced to college life through seminars on topics like independent living, money management, self-determination and career awareness.
“Program-specific courses that we are calling seminars are where they will meet and go over more in-depth content of things they need to work on outside of a Texas A&M course,” Robinson said. “We want to ensure our ACHIEVE students are becoming well-rounded in and out of the classroom.”
Weekly check-ins with Robinson will also ensure things are going smoothly for ACHIEVE students, and members of the new student organization Aggie ACHIEVEmates will help introduce them to college life.
“[ACHIEVE students] will be accompanied by ACHIEVEmates who join and can support our students across the setting,” Robinson said. “Whether it’s going to class with them, being a study partner, taking a student to eat in the dining hall or and helping them with their organization skills, ACHIEVEmates are a major asset to this process.”
ACHIEVE students will also get to experience multiple on or off-campus employment internships that are geared towards the students’ long-term goals — an opportunity that Robinson thinks will help students pursue inclusive job opportunities.
“Getting some employment experience this way over the four years allows the fourth year to really just be geared towards their employment and working to bridge the campus-to-home gap,” Robinson said. “I want them to be able to graduate from this program competitively employed, working alongside peers without disabilities, having the opportunity for promotion at jobs and really finding not just a job, but a career.”
Careers in film, personal training and theatre are just a few of the future aspirations of ACHIEVE students.
“Just treat them like you would any other Aggie,” Robinson said. “We really want these students to feel included and we want them to have the same welcoming environment that other Aggie students have.”
Aggie ACHIEVE student Courtney Osburn said she has wanted to attend A&M since before she was born, just like her great-grandfather, grandfather, father, mother, uncles and many other members of her family.
“I told the woman who introduced us to this program that she was our angel because now my daughter can go to Texas A&M,” Courtney’s mother Beca Osburn said. “We are just so grateful for this program. It has been a dream come true.”
For more information about Aggie ACHIEVE, visit epsy.tamu.edu/aggieachieve.