As Inclusive Education Services completes its July 1 transition to the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute, faculty and staff are ready to open the door to new opportunities that come with being part of the College of Community Innovation and Education.

Previously housed within Student Development and Enrollment Services, IES provides adults with intellectual disabilities an inclusive, non-degree-seeking college experience. Students spend two years completing academic courses within one of three concentrations — hospitality, social services or education.

“This transition aligns IES with a college invested in research and scholarship for students and educators with expertise in exceptional education,” says Matthew Marino, IES principal investigator and professor of exceptional education. “The advantages of the transition and immersive college experiences are vast and beneficial to the university and greater community. The TJEEI team has developed a planned community with a continuum of wrap-around services to support individuals with intellectual disabilities. IES scholars will have a customized service provision using a menu of supports to maximize personalized employment, health, happiness, life-long learning and participation in the community.”

Marino says the team hopes to enhance the IES program by collaborating with other UCF colleges and departments to provide comprehensive speech and language evaluations, mental health support and individual counseling sessions, consultative well-being guidance, and executive function assessment and coaching.

“Our team-based approach maximizes UCF community members’ abilities to contribute to a diverse, equitable and inclusive educational experience,” Marino says. “We leveraged current partnerships to support the bridge between adults with intellectual disabilities and the Central Florida community. While we acknowledge the importance of providing students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity for an immersive college experience, we must also emphasize the importance for college communities embracing the opportunity to connect with students from programs like Inclusive Education Services.”

Funded through an enhancement grant from the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities, IES launched in 2015 with an inaugural class of six students. Since then, the program has graduated 32 students. The admission rate varies based on the number of qualified applicants. To be considered for admission, students must be between the ages of 18 and 30 and have graduated from the K–12 school system. Prospective students and parents also go through an interview process.

Throughout the program, students live on campus and engage in the same opportunities as traditional UCF students. They audit courses, participate in student organizations and sporting events, and complete a community internship experience. Students also engage in a work experience on campus through avenues such as the Student Union, Bike N’ Gold, Recreation and Wellness Center, the bookstore and even The Celeste Hotel. Upon satisfying professional services credential requirements, students receive a certificate of program completion from the Division of Continuing Education through the college.

Although IES is now part of the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute, it will be housed at Ferrell Commons on main campus, where students will also have access to a classroom, study rooms and help with their coursework.

“The IES team is enthusiastic about the possibilities Inclusive Education Services provides to all students,” says Trey Vasquez, professor of exceptional student education and director of Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute. “Supporting programs such as IES meets the UCF strategic plan to provide a world-class educational experience for all. The IES program also enhances the diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging mission of our great university.”

Moving forward, the team’s vision for IES is twofold — to be able to serve more students, and to continue working to foster diversity and inclusion both on campus and out in the community.

That includes finding more community partners who are willing to work with IES students and collaborate with program leaders to create training resources for working with a diverse population.

“An important aspect of the university is diversity and inclusion, and these students deserve to be included everywhere,” says Christine Parsons, Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute program manager. “That really is one of our biggest goals — to teach the students how to become part of the community, and to be able to work with our community partners and educate them on what it’s like to work with this population of students. It’s not just about the students having a college experience. It’s about our college community having an experience with our students.”