Expanding Possibilities

Expanding Possibilities

A group of trailblazing Knights became the first class to graduate from UCF’s Inclusive Education Services program.

By Jenna Marina Lee

When Matt Ortiz set his sights on college in middle school, his parents wanted to help him go after his dream — even if they weren’t sure how to make that happen for their son, who is intellectually disabled.

“I just felt like if we stayed [at home], his life would be small. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But not for him,” says his mother, Kimetta. “I felt like there was something more.”

Fast-forward to May 3, when Ortiz was among the first class to graduate from UCF’s Inclusive Education Services program.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adults with disabilities are three times more likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities. Launched in August 2015, UCF’s certificate program aims to address that discrepancy by preparing students with intellectual and developmental disabilities for employment and providing a college experience for students who may not otherwise have the opportunity.

Man sits at a desk across from a young boy in a classroom
Mother and son hug
black graduation cap with gold lettering design: I want adventure in the great wide somewhere
Group of graduates celebrate with arms and diplomas raised in the air
Two male graduates stand side by side in their caps and gowns
UCF student in cap and gown shakes the hand of a man on stage
UCF student stands with hands on hips in front of exercise class

The group of 13 students celebrate earning their professional services credential after graduation May 3, 2019. 

Matt Ortiz and Sebastian Strawser soak up the moment before crossing the stage at graduation.

Peter Becht crosses the stage at graduation.

Elyse Mundelein teaches Zumba at UCF’s Recreation and Wellness Center.

In his role as a full-time teaching assistant, Matt Ortiz helps a student.

Matt Ortiz takes a moment to celebrate his latest milestone with his mother, Kimetta.

UCF IES student Ashley Strube decorated her cap with a phrase from Beauty and the Beast: “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.”

But IES’ students aren’t just attending classes and living in dorms. They intern, teach Zumba classes, are on-campus leaders and take international mission trips.

“They are dedicated to finding a career that really aligns with their gifts, their skills and the abilities they’ve been given,” says Adam Meyer, IES director. “And they want to make a difference in this world.”

Ortiz plans to make his impact as a full-time teaching assistant at a nearby charter school.

“I’m looking forward to working at my dream job,” he said after graduation. “The kids make my day.”

“I can’t put him back in the box that he was in before he left for UCF. He’s grown. He’s independent. There’s more to do.”
Kimetta Ortiz, Matt’s mother