New USU program designed to help students with disabilities succeed

LOGAN – Like many her age, 18-year-old Sarah Bullen will attend her first set of college classes this fall. Bullen is an incoming freshman at Utah State University looking forward to doing many things most freshman do, such as living on her own, joining clubs and making new friends, but she and seven other freshmen will be a part of a new program called Aggies Elevated.

The Aggies Elevated program is designed to make college accessible for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. It will be the first program of its kind in the state, offering the students a traditional college experience that would normally be unavailable to people with those types of disabilities.

Sarah Stone, the program’s director, said that the program will provide a little extra support in order to help the students have skills for future employment or to possibly move on to a two or four-year degree. She said that potential students go through an application process and are interviewed in order to be admitted to the program, but in the end it comes down to those who are a good fit. 

“It’s for anybody with intellectual or development disabilities,” said Stone. “So disabilities like those who have Down’s syndrome or autism. So there may be an under-served population that needs the extra support because they can’t get into college the traditional way by taking the ACT and meeting the college entrance requirements.”

The program will provide mentors and tutors for the students who will help them academically as well as teach them other life skills.

“This is going to be the first time they’ve lived out of their parent’s home like many freshman,” Stone said. “But they already have deficits in social skills and those areas so our mentors will help provide that support so they can be successful in that environment as well.”

Sarah Bullen’s father, Jonathan Bullen, said that Sarah does great socially, but needed a program like this one to help her academically.

“High school has a program. You know, they have a special needs class, a special education class,” Jonathan Bullen said. “They have individual education programs and once these kids graduate high school, there’s not a lot available for them. This is tremendous that Utah State has stepped up and been willing to put their resources behind it.”

Jonathan Bullen said that Sarah will want to participate in the LDS institute program and will possibly want to join a sorority while at school. He said he believes these opportunities, that normally would not have been available to her, will help his daughter learn and grow.

“We anticipate that after two years Sarah is going to be able to live on her own,” he said. “She’s going to have a skill to be able to go to work. She’s going to have the confidence to be able to live with a roommate or live on her own and navigate public transportation, be able to provide for herself, be able to cook meals and make a contribution.”

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