WCU seeks applicants who have developmental disabilities for UP program

The University Participant Program at Western Carolina University is seeking applicants for an initiative designed to offer on-campus living and learning experiences for 18- to 21-year-olds who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Paws, the Western Carolina University mascot, catches up with Michael Beasley, the first participant in WCU's University Participant Program, on campus.

Paws, the Western Carolina University mascot, catches up with Michael Beasley, the first participant in WCU’s University Participant Program, at a football game. (Photo courtesy Michael Beasley)

Two young adults already have successfully completed WCU’s UP program by achieving personal goals such as improving speech skills or independently navigating the campus – goals intended to help them transition into adulthood. Up to four participants from Western North Carolina will be accepted into the one- to two-year program for the 2010-11 academic year.

“WCU offers a great learning and socialization environment, and UP participants have had great successes becoming more able to speak up for themselves and becoming more independent,” said David Westling, WCU’s Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professor of Special Education.

The UP program was piloted in 2007 after graduate students in a WCU special education seminar questioned if Western Carolina could include more people who have disabilities in campus life and increase student interaction with people who have disabilities. Westling asked them how that would work and what such a program would look like, and their ideas seeded the development of the UP program.

The coordinator, Kelly Kelley, was one of the students in the seminar. “Kelly was very keen on the idea and later approached me about a particular young man named Michael Beasley. Before you knew it, Michael was living on campus,” said Westling.

Beasley, who has cerebral palsy, audited classes, including a seminar in active citizenship in which he helped with fundraisers and service-learning efforts. He became so involved in campus life and activities that he was nominated for the Homecoming Court, said Kelley.

Gary Small Jr., a participant in the UP program at Western Carolina University, shows off his cooking achievement.

Gary Small Jr., a participant in the UP program at Western Carolina University, shows off his cooking skills. (Photo courtesy Gary Small)

The program’s second participant, Gary Small Jr., also was popular, said Angela Brown, a senior special education major from Conover. Brown helped coach Small at a campus job in which he completed tasks such as paper shredding and inserting spreadsheet data.

“To see him start out needing a lot of help to then being able to do a lot of things without support was great,” said Brown. “He was so much fun to be around, too. We would be walking on campus, and he would say ‘hey’ to someone. When I would ask who it was, he would tell me all about them. He knew more students at WCU than I did.”

Small’s parents, Gary and Dee Dee Small of Haywood County, said the program was wonderful and brought out independence and maturity in their son.

Meanwhile, participants have helped WCU students become more aware, understanding and accepting of people who have developmental disabilities, said Kelley. “It’s amazing how much support we’ve had from the students and the administration,” said Kelley.

UP program participants pay normal tuition and fees, and are eligible for scholarships of $6,500 per year made possible from a Walmart Foundation grant to The Arc of Haywood County, which in turn is using the money to support the UP program. The scholarships cover about half of the annual cost of attendance, said Kelley.

To apply, participants must be enrolled in a high school special education program that does not lead to completion of a regular high school diploma and does not allow students to complete requirements necessary for regular admission to WCU. In addition, participants should have adequate communication skills and socially acceptable behavior to interact with other students on campus. Applications are due Monday, June 28. For more information, contact Kelley at kkelley@wcu.edu, by phone at 828-550-1990, or visit www.arcofhaywood.org/contact to request more information.