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IDEAL program finishes semester strong, celebrates graduates

The IDEAL program celebrated another milestone with its sixth cohort to celebrate the completion of the program even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Chaudoin  | 

IDEAL May 2020 graduates

Nine IDEAL students received their certificates in career exploration studies this month.

As spring semester took an abrupt turn and classes transitioned to a remote format, faculty and students in Lipscomb’s IDEAL (Igniting the Dream of Education and Access) program finished strong and celebrated its May graduating class in a special ceremony on May 1. 

It might not have been the celebration that the nine students who were Lipscomb’s latest to complete the requirements for certificates in career exploration studies expected to have, but there was no shortage of joy, happiness, pride and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

Students receiving their certificates in career exploration studies this May are Molly Bruns, Saul Buda, Erin Campbell, Alexander Curran, Kailie Ezell, Spencer Little, Fermina Lopez, Ann Marie McDonald and Hassun Syed.

The students were celebrated in a ceremony streamed live on the IDEAL program Facebook page on May 1. The ceremony included remarks from program officials and congratulatory videos for each graduate from peer mentors, internship partners, faculty and more. 

“Typically right now I would be welcoming a packed room of family and supporters for this sixth IDEAL graduation,” said Misty Parsley, director of special education programs in the College of Education and the faculty advisor for the IDEAL program, in the virtual ceremony. “While the end of this semester is not what we had planned we are still incredibly proud of all of our graduates. We know you will do great things.”

Molly Bruns

Molly Bruns practices cooking skills.

Al Sturgeon, vice president of student life, spoke at the ceremony and offered a blessing to the graduates. 

“We are so proud of you. We are so proud of your accomplishments. It has been a great honor for us to watch you succeed here,” he said. “You bring us so much joy. Joy is my blessing for you on this special day.” He shared Psalm 26:3 with the students as a blessing.

IDEAL program director Andrea Pewitt also shared a message of thanks to the faculty partners, internship sponsors and peer mentors who worked with all of the program students this year. 

“I especially want to say thank you to the entire IDEAL team. Without you our students would not be successful,” she said. “I also thank all of our families for sharing their young adults with us. What an amazing group. We are so proud of you all. We can’t wait to see what you do next.”    

The ceremony marked a celebratory conclusion to a spring semester that transitioned to a remote format following an extended spring break and due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like the entire Lipscomb community, IDEAL program leaders and students had to quickly make adjustments to internships, classes and every facet of the program to offer it in a remote format while continuing the academic and life skill instruction effectively. 

“With the program being under a federal Department of Education grant, we relied on communication from our program coordinator at the DOE to guide us during this time of COVID-19,” said Parsley. “We were very encouraged that we were able to continue to meet our grant goals and program goals and to continue our focus on career development, social skills, academic support, and independent living. The IDEAL Staff worked incredibly hard to make this time meaningful and productive for our students.” 

IDEAL students in Zoom class

IDEAL students attend class via Zoom during spring semester.

Program leaders worked swiftly to transition all aspects of the program — academics, career development, peer mentoring, internship, fitness and more — to a remote format. Sarah Roe-Hall, program manager, community specialist in the IDEAL program, said maintaining a similar routine to what the students had when on campus was important.

“Keeping their schedule as similar as possible was a key goal,” said Roe-Hall. “Of course there we had a little trial and error as we were making the transition, but it went very well. Our peer mentors did a great job supporting our students and our students did an awesome job continuing with their learning and activities. There have been so many positives in this situation.”

Students have personalized schedules that include morning check-ins, checking email, attending class, peer mentor meetings, study time, work time, attending chapel, fitness activities and independent time among other activities. 

Robert Bousquet at a computer

Robert Bousquet working at home.

“Each student has their own activity board,” explained Pewitt. “They could do activities with their families at home which helped them continue to work on the socials skills that are part of our curriculum. Being able to continue with their social activities was significant. Students also had internship activity boards to help our students continue to make progress with those skills.”

Weekly activities for each IDEAL student are tied to their personal goals — whether in the typical on-campus setting or remotely as they finished the spring semester. Students complete two new activities in the various categories each week and not only gives them the opportunity to learn new skills but also gives them practice managing their time. For example, on the internship skills activity board a student could choose to interview a family member or dress in business attire to fulfill that week’s assignment. 

Halle King, data specialist, said the goal has been for students to “continue to have a life balance while encouraging them to explore and try new things.”

Although the semester ended in a remote learning format, Eby Browning, IDEAL program employment specialist, said the expectations of their students remained high. 

“We continued to expect a high standard from our students,” she explained. “And they stepped up. They continued to want to learn and grow. This was a difficult situation and life has been challenging for all of us during this time and they stepped up.”
IDEAL students embraced the Zoom meetings, class sessions, counseling sessions and the virtual close to the semester.

“In student goals meetings we talked about being flexible when things don’t go their way or don’t work the way they’re supposed to and how to continue to focus,” said King. “I have been so impressed with how well they have adjusted, have stayed motivated and thrived during this time.”

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 approved 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.

Learn more about Lipscomb's IDEAL program.