IDEAL internship program promotes inclusion, prepares students for real-world work setting

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Note: this article was published by Lacey Klotz on Lipscomb's homepage on February 28, 2017

Every Tuesday and Thursday at noon, Jason Rogers puts on a tie, his best pair of slacks and shoes, and heads to the Tennessee State Capitol for his internship in Governor Bill Haslam’s office.  

A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Rogers says for as long as he can remember, his dream was to move to Nashville, live independently and be a part of Lipscomb’s Igniting the Dream of Education and Access at Lipscomb program.

JasonRogers_Side1Today, Rogers is a first-year student in the IDEAL program and one of two students in the IDEAL residential pilot program where he lives independently on-campus. He is also the first intern at the governor’s office with a disability and his motivation for being there is simple. “I want to help people within the state of Tennessee,” said Rogers.

Created in 2013 by Lipscomb’s College of Education, IDEAL is a two-year program that provides education and workplace training to students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, while also encouraging friendships and increased independent skills that can lead to a better quality of life.

“Jason went through the same interview process as everyone else,” said Joanna Wagner, program manager for off-campus job development for the IDEAL program. “He is working with the Office of Constituent Services in the scheduling office primarily. He has a job coach, which is a paid student of Lipscomb University who comes and coaches him on-site, but he is from Chattanooga and moved to Nashville and loves everything about the state of Tennessee, so he is the perfect choice for this internship.”

According to the National Report on Employment Services Outcomes, working-age adults with disabilities are employees at a rate of only 23 percent in Tennessee, and those working will earn a yearly-household income that is on average $20,000 less than those without a disability.

To combat this statistic, Lipscomb’s IDEAL program partners with both the Lipscomb community as well as the Nashville business community to provide students with on-campus and off-campus internship opportunities to help prepare them for real world work settings.

“The reason that a program like IDEAL is important, not only for our students with disabilities but also for our students without disabilities, is that we want the people going out into the world and getting jobs, being employed, getting very used to and very comfortable with the idea of inclusion,” said Wagner. “Our students have the same wants and needs and desires as any student does: they want to live independently, they want to pay taxes and contribute back to their community and an inclusive program like IDEAL allows them a safe environment to practice those skills, so that when they complete the program, they are out contributing just like anyone else.”

This semester, IDEAL students are interning in several offices on Lipscomb’s campus, as well as off campus at the Nashville Food Project, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, Divine Art Café, Friends of Warner Parks and Discovery Center at Murfree Spring.

JasonRogers_Side3Wagner said just like anyone in their first job or interview, the IDEAL program staff have conversations about how to talk to a supervisor in an email, how to understand and ask questions about certain tasks and how to ask questions when you don’t understand. There are also specific training sessions for job coaches and internship advisers so they will be best prepared to best support the student at the job site.

“One thing we really work on with our job coaches and something we have worked with the staff of the governor’s office, is introducing Jason to the environment and remembering that he is no different than any other employee,” said Wagner. “The job coach is there for any reasonable accommodation that needs to be made; but just like you and I, everyone needs accommodations now and then.

“When Jason came in, it was so important for him to understand the important step he was taking. Jason has completely shined in this role, but this workplace has also he realized he is just an employee. The tasks that he has been given are the same tasks that any other intern would be given and I think that has helped shaped peoples mentalities that about the world of disabilities as well.”

The IDEAL program is partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, with support from Lipscomb’s College of Education.

In November 2015, the IDEAL program received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through its Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) initiative. Lipscomb was one of only 25 universities in the nation to receive a TPSID grant. Other institutions awarded a grant this year include the University of Alabama, Syracuse University, Ohio State University, Appalachian State University and Vanderbilt University among others.

Tuition is $15,000 per year. In addition, students pay for meal plans and any applicable student fees. Students who are interested in the program should apply and may be selected to interview. Students will be eligible if they are diagnosed with an intellectual disability, do not meet the standard undergraduate admission criteria, and are between the ages of 18 to 26, among other criteria.

For more information about the IDEAL program, click here.