Inclusive Program Offers Professional Studies and Career-Readiness to Students at all Levels
Sara Hudson is a very busy student. When she’s not working at WaWa, a job that she’s had for more than a decade, Hudson is engaging with the campus community.
“I like being on campus at the gym, in my classes, and hanging out with my friends,” said Hudson.
No matter the activity, Hudson’s Widener Pride is always on display, typically in the form of a Widener sweatshirt or ballcap.
Her pride stems from enrollment in Widener’s Integrated Professional Studies Program, an inclusive program designed for students with intellectual disabilities to foster skills of self-advocacy, independence, and confidence to succeed in rewarding careers.
The program first launched in 2018 as a pilot with a $60,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Institute of Higher Education Consortium. Spearheaded by Julie Heydeman, program director, it enrolled three students in its initial cohort, including Hudson.
This year, the program secured additional funding to continue providing opportunities for local students who want to attend courses, participate in campus activities, and learn career-readiness skills.
“This program enables students with varying abilities the opportunity to join our campus community,” said Heydeman, a two-time Widener graduate who earned a masters of social work in 2019. “A college campus is the best setting for students to grow alongside their same-age peers who are also learning to navigate adulthood on their own.”
As one of approximately 20 programs in the state, Widener’s program is uniquely positioned to serve students in the region seeking postsecondary learning opportunities. Now in its fourth year, the program has expanded its offerings by partnering with groups across campus to deliver learning opportunities designed specifically for student participants.
In the spring semester, Adam Peters, an occupational therapy doctoral student, developed and led an immersive workshop for the students as part of his doctoral capstone project.
“The goal of this project was to help the students become more independent and strengthen fundamental basic living skills that aren’t taught in class,” said Peters, who graduated with his doctorate in May 2022.
The five-week workshop was offered in partnership with Widener’s Multicultural Student Affairs Office for students to practice and master activities of daily living. From fire and kitchen safety, to money management and campus navigation, the workshop taught transferable skills that can be used in the students’ everyday lives.
Peters’ workshop, which offered targeted lesson plans and related themes, helped students like Drewliana Vann practice familiar tasks.
“Learning how to spend money and practice with real money and calculators was fun,” said Vann. “I’m not great at using money but I feel more confident now and I’m excited that I get to learn more about it. I also wish the workshop was more than five weeks.”
Vann is the newest student in the program. She came to Widener in August 2021 after she and her mom searched for local programs to build upon similar programming that she participated in during high school.
According to Michelle Meekins-Davis, director of the Multicultural Student Affairs Office and the university’s chief diversity officer, the program’s expanding partnerships
reflect Widener’s commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive culture on campus that position students for success at every level.
“This partnership provided an opportunity for the development and growth of our students,” said Meekins-Davis. “Sarah and Drewliana actively enhanced their basic living skills while Adam gained experience in equity-minded healthcare, which will be critical in the care of his future patients.”
The workshop overwhelmingly left a positive impact on the students’ experience. For Hudson, she enjoyed learning alongside Peters’ hands-on guidance and instruction.
“I liked everything, but baking cookies and doing the shopping were my favorite,” said Hudson. “Adam works with us step by step, and I really liked that.”
Overall, the supportive, group environment, according to Vann, made for meaningful learning experiences and helped her find a second family on Widener’s campus.
“I like socializing and getting to know everybody,” said Vann. “I love being around them. I’m really looking forward to next year.”