2023 Commencement Debuts Notable Firsts for the University

Emily Barrett, associate director of communications
Students pose in blue regalia at commencement.
Drewliana Vann, David Perry, and Sara Hudson celebrate earning certificates as the first graduates in Widener's Integrated Professional Studies program.

It was a week of pomp and circumstance as Widener celebrated its 2023 graduates. Out of the approximate 1,375 Widener graduates that crossed the platform this year, three students celebrated not only their accomplishments, but a milestone for one of Widener’s newest programs. 

Sara Hudson, David Perry, and Drewliana Vann became the inaugural graduates of Widener’s Integrated Professional Studies program, a certificate non-degree program that supports students with intellectual disabilities (ID). This program, along with the Institute of Speech-Language Pathology, celebrated its first graduating class during this year’s commencement season.

President Stacey Robertson smiles at the podium during commencement.
President Stacey Robertson.

This year’s commencement, which saw the return to the Chester campus for ceremonies on Memorial Field, also marked Stacey Robertson’s first commencement as president. The recently inaugurated president spoke at each of the five ceremonies and noted the excitement she held in common with this group of graduates.

“What a joy to share my inaugural Widener commencement experience with the first graduating classes of the Speech-Language Pathology and Integrated Professional Studies programs! These programs highlight Widener’s exceptional commitment to providing our students with meaningful career and life experiences,” said Robertson.

Launched in 2018, the Integrated Professional Studies program teaches skills of self-advocacy, independence, and confidence to succeed in a rewarding career. Program Director Julie Heydeman ’18, ’19, who spearheaded the program while earning a bachelor’s of social work at Widener, reflected on the group’s success and growth over the years.

Students and a staff member pose in regalia at commencement.
Vann, Perry, Hudson, and Heydeman pose at their commencement ceremony.

“David, Sara, and Drewliana have shown immense dedication to their academic concentrations and have committed to internships that moved them closer to their career goals. Each student has excelled in developing skills of self-advocacy and independence,” said Heydeman.

As one of only 20 programs of its kind in the state, the program delivers a personalized college experience for its students. Over the years, the program has built partnerships with undergraduate and graduate programs to offer hands-on collaborations including peer mentorships, student-run workshops, and on-campus internships. 

This spring Hudson, Perry, and Vann also presented their work at Student Project Day. According to Heydeman, these types of opportunities and collaborations enrich the students’ experiences in the program and build a truly inclusive campus community. 
“I have been especially grateful for the partnerships we have created on campus,” said Heydeman. “Their participation in these opportunities is the definition of inclusion.”

Speech language pathology graduates celebrate together at commencement.
The first graduates of the Speech-Language Pathology program celebrate their accomplishments.

The Speech-Language Pathology program, one of the newest programs in the College of Health & Human Services, also graduated its first class this May. The 18-member class played an integral role in setting the program up for continued success, according to Program Director Kathleen Youse.

“We are very proud of the way that the students stepped up to help us with the development of the program,” said Youse. 

The program joined Widener’s expanding roster of graduate health science programs and, like the programs before it, quickly became a reliable community health care partner.

Students in the speech language pathology program pose in front of Old Main as first-year students.
The first class: Speech language pathology students marked their first year with a group photo.

“We’ve made several connections in and around the Chester community including partnerships with the Widener Child Development Center, Drexel Neumann Academy, GETincluded Inc., and the Wayne Senior Center,” Youse added. 

In addition to establishing meaningful community partnerships, the program has seen tremendous success through its pro bono Speech-Language Pathology Clinic. The clinic serves both English- and Spanish-speaking residents who are uninsured or underinsured and now offers services to clients four days a week. Providing assessment and treatment for bilingual clients is a skill held by only 8 percent of speech-language pathologists making the clinic a critical local resource. 

As these students, and all of the 2023 graduates, join Widener’s more than 60,000-member alumni association, Robertson looks forward to the meaningful impact they will have on their communities and the world. 

“I am confident that our caring and compassionate graduates will enrich their communities and experience great success in all their pursuits,” said Robertson.

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