As the eight students who were Lipscomb’s latest to complete the requirements for certificates in career exploration studies entered a packed Stowe Hall on the afternoon of Friday, May 4, there was no shortage of joy, happiness, pride and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
The students are members of the fourth cohort in Lipscomb’s IDEAL (Igniting the Dream of Education and Access) program to earn these certificates. They were met with cheers and applause from their families, peers, friends, faculty, staff, administrators and friends who came to celebrate the achievements of these eight students.
Students receiving their certificates in career exploration studies this May are Bradley Joseph Bramlett, Carson Hays Dugger, Caitlyn Francine Ford, Jennifer Kate Hemby, Henry Stephen Johnson, Jason Wade Rogers, Brittenee Jeanette Whitelow and William Zachary Wood.
“This has been a joyful class. We will miss their joy on campus, but we cannot wait to see what God has in store for each of them,” said Misty Parsley, IDEAL faculty advisor and director of special education programs in Lipscomb’s College of Education.
IDEAL is a two-year certificate program that provides education and workplace training to students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. It is housed in Lipscomb’s College of Education and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Launched in January 2014, the IDEAL program includes academic and skill-building classes, exercise sessions, daily internships, leisure time and a daily study period.
Senior Taylor Sain, a disability studies major from Nashville, presented a message on behalf of the program’s peer mentors for this school year. She shared a reading from “Letterville: The Town that God Built” as a message to the IDEAL graduates.
“Today is a wonderful day of celebrating accomplishments, growth and the beginning of a new chapter in your lives,” said Sain. “This program and these students have completely changed what I want to do with my career. You have impacted me so much.”
“Your attitudes are so contagious,” she continued. “Everyone that you come in contact with is immediately greeted with immense joy, love and friendship. You make a big impact on others.”
The ceremony also included charges from John Lewis, associate professor of biology, and Willie Steele, professor of English, who co-taught the “Exploring Nature and Literature” course that several of the IDEAL program graduates completed.
“They say we teach the students, but I think I can speak for all of the faculty who have taught IDEAL students that we actually learn more from you,” Steele told the graduates. “I want you to know that we hope you leave here better than you were two years ago, but I know for certain that we are better people because you have been here with us. We are so very, very proud of you and are so excited to see what happens in the coming years.”
Lewis said one of the best aspects of being an IDEAL faculty member is watching relationships develop.
“I love watching you build relationships with other students in the classroom,” said Lewis. “Whoever you sit next to becomes part of your daily lives in class. The number of students who step up and walk alongside our IDEAL students gives me such hope for the future. Your can-do attitude and the way you go above and beyond brighten my day.”
Before officially recommending the candidates for the career exploration studies certificate, Provost W. Craig Bledsoe told the students how proud he is of their accomplishments.
“I am more proud of you all than any of our other graduates who will be receiving their degrees this weekend,” said Bledsoe. “You have done a tremendous job. You have persevered, and you have worked hard.”
Lipscomb University President L. Randolph Lowry presented the eight students with their certificates.
“This is an amazing moment. When I talk to groups about relationships, the illustration I use from this university is you,” Lowry told the students. “Your relationship with this university, the university’s relationship with you…the warmth of our students in welcoming you and the graciousness, energy and passion that you bring…that really was the first thing that came to my mind when illustrating relationship. You will always have a home here. This will always be your university.”
According to Parsley the ultimate goal of the IDEAL program and its career exploration studies program is to equip students for employment options. Lipscomb has many community partners that provide a variety of internships and job training opportunities for IDEAL students. Students begin in their first semester with on-campus internships. These placements are sought once the career goals are identified for each student.
“The goal is to scaffold necessary skills so the student is always learning and practicing skills that will benefit him in his future job placement,” said Parsley.
Students are placed in off-campus internships in their second year of the program. The students' job interests and abilities are matched with available openings. Students complete at least four work experiences to include on their resumes upon completion of the program as a result of these on-campus and off-campus internships.
Several of the IDEAL program’s fourth cohort completed externships at the Tennessee Department of Education. Alison Gauld, behavior and low incidence disabilities coordinator for special populations for the DOE, worked with these students and gave them some final advice during the ceremony.
Gauld encouraged the IDEAL graduates to hold on to the belief they can achieve anything they set their minds to, to continue to be kind and to leave a legacy. She
“Hard work, honesty, passion, kindness, those are just a few ways to change the world,” she said. “If we continue to believe in each other and continue to believe it’s possible, we will continue to change this world into the accepting and loving world that we want it to be.”
Other students completed externships at the Tennessee State Capitol in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. Although Haslam was not able to attend the ceremony, he sent a video message for the IDEAL graduates.
“I want to join everyone in congratulating this year’s graduating class in Lipscomb’s IDEAL program,” said Haslam. “The IDEAL program is proof that people with disabilities can be great employees. I’m glad it’s a program that doesn’t just have interns on campus, but also interns who work in the community. We are doing all that we can in state government to get people employed, and the IDEAL program proves that people with disabilities can be very good at a job.”
“I want to thank Lipscomb for this program and to encourage any employers who may be in the audience today to think about people with disabilities when they hire,” he continued. “So graduates, congratulations. You make our state proud. We look forward to your continued success.”
Graduates from IDEAL’s first three cohorts are employed at a variety of organizations throughout Middle Tennessee including High Hopes Development Center, Franklin; The Well, Brentwood; and Fidelity Offset Inc., Fleet Feet, and the Lipscomb University athletics office, Nashville; among others.
For more information about the IDEAL program, click here.