In the fall of 2014, Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) partnered with Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a non-profit agency located in Watertown, Wisconsin, to create a program that would allow young adults with intellectual and other complex disabilities to experience a post-secondary education experience. Through this collaboration, Bethesda College, a two-year certificate program combining a liberal arts focus with skills development coursework, emerged. In its inaugural year, the program saw seven students experience two semesters of residency on campus and learning in the areas of academics, career preparation, adult living skills, and campus/community life. As the second year of Bethesda College is well under way, CUW is happy to report a 100% retention rate of students from the 2014-2015 academic year, along with the addition of five new students.
While the Bethesda program is designed to help students with disabilities learn in a traditional university setting, it also provides opportunity for CUW students, faculty, and staff to grow in their own understanding.
“Having students with significant disabilities on campus enriches the lives of everyone,” said Dr. Wanda Routier, the Concordia faculty representative for the Bethesda College program. “They add to the richness of the diversity found here, and show people that there are other ways to accomplish the same end goal.”
One student in particular, Will Turner, a junior at CUW and a defensive lineman on the University’s football team, is getting the chance to impact his fellow students both on and off the field by working with the Bethesda students. This semester, Turner is working as a life coach for the male Bethesda students, a job which entails teaching and improving skills such as independent living, time management, and self-discipline.
“My job is to help the students enhance skills they already know but are not comfortable with, so that they can learn independence,” said Turner.
In addition to teaching critical life skills, Turner is giving both male and female Bethesda students the opportunity to become involved with the school’s football program. Each week, students have the chance to attend football practice with Turner, an opportunity he considers a benefit for not only the Bethesda students but for the football team and the entire CUW campus as well.
“I want to help develop the relationship between CUW and Bethesda students and the football team,” said Turner. “It’s like family helping out family.”
As the season carries on, the students will continue to attend practices along with supporting their coach and the entire football team at home games.
In addition to attending classes, completing homework, learning life skills, and supporting the football team, the Bethesda students are also staying busy by receiving the opportunity to experience the joys and demands of employment. Starting at the beginning of the semester, all 12 students began internships in a variety of both on and off campus places, including CUW dining services, Stein Gardens and Gifts, and Family Sharing.
“My job at the preschool is teaching me how to be more patient with people,” said Rach Hoffman, a second year Bethesda student. “There are a lot of challenges of working but I am learning to be patient with others and learning how they work.”
According to Dr. Routier, these internships help students work toward achieving the Bethesda program goals of independent living and community employment in a career path.
For more information on Bethesda College at Concordia University Wisconsin, contact Carol Burns, the Bethesda Program consultant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-243-2712.
— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 262-243-2149.
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