The Landscape

Inclusive Higher Education for Students with an Intellectual Disability

December 13, 2020 Naveh Eldar / Tammy Day / Fermina Lopez Season 1 Episode 22
The Landscape
Inclusive Higher Education for Students with an Intellectual Disability
Show Notes Transcript

Learn about the more than 305 post-secondary programs in the United States for individuals with an intellectual disability. This episode features Tammy Day, the director of Next Steps at Vanderbilt who speaks about how the program operates, criteria to enter a program, how funding works in Tennessee, and what the ultimate goal is for these programs.

Also hear from Fermina Lopez, who is a recent graduate of IDEAL (Igniting the Dream of Education and Access at Lipscomb). Fermina speaks about what is was like to attend a program, why she chose the program at Lipscomb University, and gives advice to high school students who are thinking of a Inclusive Higher Education program.

This episode is chalk full of information and sets the bar for inclusion and universal design.

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See you in season two! 

Naveh Eldar  0:16  
Welcome to the landscape, a podcast to shed light on the people, programs and businesses that are changing the landscape for individuals with any type of disability. I'm your host Naveh Eldar. We've made it to the end of season one, which actually started in March. I can't thank my guests and listeners enough for this wonderful year. Of course, we still have a few weeks to go. But so far this year, the landscape has had listeners in 34 countries and a whopping 695 cities and towns. I couldn't think of a better episode to end the year, then bringing on guests to discuss inclusive higher education, which are programs at colleges across the United States. For students with an intellectual disability. There are currently 305 colleges across the nation with an inclusive education program. And today's guests include Tammy de, the director of next steps at Vanderbilt University, and for Mina Lopez, a recent graduate of the ideal program at Lipscomb University. Ideal is an acronym for igniting the dream of education and access at Lipscomb fermina will be giving her experience and advice during the second half of the episode. But we start today, with Tammy day explaining why each inclusive higher education program is a little different, although they have an emerging global blueprint for best practices.

Tammy Day  1:53  
For me, the intent of having students with intellectual and developmental disabilities be a part of a university campus is where we hope to eventually build the capacity for the universities and colleges around the world to see that they do have the capacity to include this population of students so that they can be on their campuses, and they can be earning a meaningful credential. And while parents and students are looking for programs that they or opportunities that they think speak to what they hope to get out of college, what maybe they got to experience in college and they want the same for their student. Students that are enrolling in these programs are looking for just that. And they want the flavor of the the college spirit that they went to the hometown that they went to, maybe they're particularly interested in a certain field. And so they want to go to that university to try to take some classes in that field. So that's the beauty of our programs, and the way we deliver things, they need to be representative of where we are. So otherwise, you're going to be building silos, separate programs, right on a university campus. And we know now right in a high school setting and public school setting, you don't want a separate school, inside a school, you want them to be into the fabric of the whole university. But there definitely are best practices that are strongly emerging. And our National Coordinating Center is called think college. And they have had federal funding now for over 10 years. And they have gotten their third round of grant money to continue being the National Coordinating Center. And through the grants from the federal government, there are model demonstration sites that are chosen through a very rigorous grant process. So with the guidance of best practices that are coming out of thin college, that we are all feeding into and working towards, but we hope to eventually have our own accreditation, you know, in order to be an approved accredited site programs will have to meet certain standards. So we already have these standards that have been rolled out that have been tested, piloted across the country. So when a new program starts, especially, they are so fortunate, because now as they're building, how are we going to support these students on our campus? They have what you need to have this and you ought to have these experiences. This is how you should evaluate them. Those practices are there. But this kind of like asking about what does your college student support services look like? And why is it different on a different campus? Let's because you're on a different campus.

Naveh Eldar  4:51  
And so at Vanderbilt, what does a typical day look like? Because I had the pleasure of being a guest presenter too. A group of your students a couple years ago, so I know that they have at least some time that they spend together. But then I know that they go out. And then we also as you know, host, we had an intern for two years. I same intern peach, who is a who's wonderful, and I believe she listens to this podcast, and Hello, peach. So I know you do those that the internships are important. But for the listeners, what does what does the day to day look like for your students?

Tammy Day  5:27  
I think that you would be amazed at how much their day looks like the day of any university student, their activities revolve around their appointments and what they need to get done that day. So their schedules are based upon when do I have my university classes? When am I meeting with my tutors that are helping me in the classes? When am I meeting with other classmates may be in my class. When am I meeting people for lunch, sometimes someone is built into their schedule a peer mentor that's coming to meeting lunch, and we're working on social skills just hanging out. And then some other added supports that we build in, like you said, our students do come together. They're freshmen and sophomore years, they come together three hours, an hour at a time during the week for our core classes, and we call them career and community studies. These are foundational classes that we build. And then in their junior and senior year, they these morph into independent studies, each student gets to meet with a tutor to work on their independent study. But these are the only times that they do come together as a group, then the rest of their time back before COVID they are on our campus learning to manage their life. What am I want to do between time? How do I navigate there? What resources are on campus? Oh, someone told me about this cool place to eat over here and this and that. And so their day is spent regulating themselves, making decisions, keeping appointments, learning to deal with the challenges of all of that.

Naveh Eldar  7:10  
So how many credit hours do they take a semester? Do they do full time,

Tammy Day  7:15  
they are considered full time students that was built into our application to be a federally approved comprehensive transition program. So our students take one or two university courses each week, then they have the courses that we teach, then we have a strong component of career development opportunities. So they do career exploration activities that morph and grow and expand to by the time they're a senior, they're involved in intern externships, between 15 and 20 hours a week.

Naveh Eldar  7:52  
Are they taking classes strictly based on their interests? Or are there some core classes that they have to take just with the general professors? Right,

Tammy Day  8:01  
Vanderbilt is different and that it is a private school, we are a top 20 University. And I think in some ways that makes us a little different than a state school. So Vanderbilt the way they do orientation classes. There's not like a college 101 you know, freshman orientation in that sense. So our students in their freshman year, they do get to be grouped into something called freshmen visions. And they meet with that group of students for an hour a week, the whole first semester. Outside of that, the students are given a huge number of courses to choose from, from the from the catalog, and they build them based upon their career interest, and just things that they're interested in as far as lifelong learning. So there's not a prescribed list.

Naveh Eldar  8:53  
And so they can have different professors, all of them can have completely different professors. Is there any training done or any conversation I had with the professors to prepare them for this group of students?

Tammy Day  9:06  
Yes. So our Center for Teaching and Learning, they have shown a great commitment to providing special training for for all of their faculty on being diverse and being accessible. So they do have some trainings that the university can take what we have done specifically for faculty that are interested in having students in their courses, we have a faculty guide that we've created, and we send it to them if they're interested in looking through it. We also share a list of the over 180 different faculty members that have worked with our students in the past and the names of those courses. And we we actually have some that have said please put me down as a contact person. So one thing I learned about faculty is and it makes sense they don't really like in a public forum To share what they don't know, they'd like to do it behind the scenes. And so we've provided ways for them to, at their own time at their own pace, reach out, connect, ask questions. And then we have a very open door policy of, we're able to support you and answer your questions in any way. But then we do take the lion's share of modifications, we are doing those. So each student we take the syllabus for the course that they're in. And we follow best practices with making modifications, we change them as little as possible based upon the student's strengths, and their study skills and their tenacity. So if we have a student that wants to do junk, we have some students who say I just want to do what everyone else is doing. Now, that's rare. Most of those students most can't. But then we tweak it as little as possible, we send that to the faculty and ask for the input. Sometimes I say, Oh, you took out an assignment, I really think they would love to be a part of put it back in. Or they'll ask for Oh, how can I tweak this or that?

Naveh Eldar  11:09  
Have you ever had any pushback from a faculty that didn't want to be involved, or they felt like you know, this is, let me tell you where this is coming from. So we have a Project SEARCH site, it BlueCross BlueShield, of Tennessee. And in the beginning, there were some staff that were concerned, they were like, I don't want to baby said, I don't want to now they didn't know what they were getting into. Right? Because fast forward at the end of the year. They were like, these are the most amazing interns we've had, but they didn't know that going in. And so did you. Did you hear any concern from professors? That is similar to like, well, I don't know, if I want this person to my class, I don't have time to give extra attention, so on so forth.

Tammy Day  11:51  
I think that that was definitely lots of questions at the beginning. And so our process of even requesting for a student to take their class that has changed, we used to have to go through each departments Dean, and they would meet with us and the faculty all together. But as we've proven, and they now have peers, they can talk reach out to and say how did this go? But there have been some, and there continue to be some that are they are being cautious with the content of their course? And how is it going to read to the student? Like, is it? Are they going to be able to handle this content? And if a faculty member, maybe they're up for tenure, and they have a lot of stress that semester, they may say, I just don't want one more thing to be considering at this time.

Naveh Eldar  12:41  
Gotcha. And then so is that respected by the program? Or Oh, absolutely. Okay. Yeah,

Tammy Day  12:46  
yeah, we will not place a student if the faculty says, No, thank you or not this time.

Naveh Eldar  12:53  
So I mean, any school that you go to, there's criteria criteria to get into it, right, like Vanderbilt, one of the hardest schools in the country to get admitted to so in these programs, I assume that there's also criteria. So how do you decide or how do you measure the students that can or cannot get into the program?

Tammy Day  13:13  
Right? Well, the Quicken dry criteria are the easiest to look at. One is do they meet the age criteria that we have. And each program would do that, you know, some programs don't even have a cutoff, they don't have an upper age. So I think that's very cool. On on our particular campus, we don't have as many adult learners. And so we decided to have our cutoff be 26 to start. And if you're a transfer student coming in, you can be 28. So that's quick and easy. The second thing that that should be easy, but people's documentation of their diagnosis is not always complete. And so we are only accepting students that have a diagnosis of an intellectual disability. Okay. So if those two things are go, then how do we continue finding our good students? So there are there are two things one is we have to the greatest extent possible, we have to get a sense that the student has an idea of what college is, and they're telling us this is what I want, I want a college experience. I want a job, if they don't indicate that they want a job, they're not a fit for us. And then the last criteria that is super, super important is do we feel this person has strong enough cognitive skills that we can teach them to be safe on an open campus

Naveh Eldar  14:43  
gotcha. Okay. Because they spend quite a bit of time independently right. So they have to be able to in like, and you know, these are campuses all over the country, so they can be very large so they have to be able to maneuver the campus guy. I know that internships and extra And ships as you call them, are very important for you. So So why is that? And and how does that work for both the student? And how do you do outreach to companies?

Tammy Day  15:11  
I believe across the country, the best practices to build the students program of study on their person centered planning plan. So as we get to know our students, and understand what environments they work best in, is it frontline? Is it behind the scenes fast paced, slow paced, you know, are they a people person? Are they a detail person, and then take into the into consideration where they themselves want to work? What type of job do they want to have, then we build upon those interests and their aptitudes. But we also don't hesitate to say, I noticed how you did such a great job on that task. Do you know that there are other dogs that have cast similar to that and you could build upon that, it's not uncommon for our students, just like other university students, to change their career focus based upon their discovery and exploration. So our program builds upon the student's interest. And then as they get to explore, having four years of deep, deep, deep exploration and discovery, our students, they get to walk into many different opportunities, many different environments, and they do reflection every single week. And they become so aware of what works well for them. So we take what they think they can bring to a company, what we think they can bring to a company, and then all the environmental things. And every semester, we meet, we revisit this person centered plan. And so where Next, you know, where do you want to explore next. And, you know, we couldn't do this successfully without the families, you know, the families are right there with us listening to and contributing to these conversations. The students are supported with a job coach that fades when they're able to fade so that the student is successful. So that's kind of the student piece, the employer piece is we take all that we know about the student, and we begin approaching people that have work that they are interested in, do you have a need? Do you have a capacity? If you don't think you have the capacity? Can we talk about how we can show you that you probably do have the capacity? And would you entertain an intern?

Naveh Eldar  17:35  
So we know from research now how impactful that the integration of people with disabilities has on a company like an all the positive ways like your bottom dollar is more your your the morale of individuals without a disability is more. So I'm going to talk a little bit about that from my side, because we had an intern with us. So peach came and she's full of drive loves to be at work. And first of all, not everybody has that. Let's just be honest, right? Not everybody comes to work happy. And so it's just nice to have that energy around if somebody truly wants to be there. I finished this, what can I do next? What can I do next type of an attitude. And then she was just social, like she wanted to make connections, she wanted to be friends. So I'm just gonna fast forward to so I work from home. Even pre, we're talking pre co but I work from home, I don't know, 30% of the time I traveled 30% of the time and the rest of them in the office. So we have our going away party for her, you know, her internship was ending, we're saying goodbye to her. She's going off to do her senior year. And so I'm like, you know, invite the people that you want to come to this right. And so we have it at a cafeteria. And so I walk into the cafeteria, and there's like, I don't know, 3040 people there. I don't know, look, she worked for me and my division. I don't know, like 80% of the people I didn't know. And I was like, how do you know these people. And they were like, so happy to be there. They brought her gifts. They brought her food, it was just the most ridiculous thing. But it just showed how one person can be impactful and just making the your employment. Like I said, not only does she do really good work for us, but she like brought us together as a community almost like completely by herself. So I usually don't talk this long, but I feel in this particular episode, I have kind of a unique insight in this program. So I would like to know, I would like to know, how does that look on campus? Like how is this program impact the university, the students, the professor, so forth.

Tammy Day  19:48  
I think that you could take what you said and just amplify it by the number of students that there are when you were talking about the It reminded me of a story that that was a film class, an introduction to film class. And it was a pretty large class, maybe 80 students, and they had the huge projector and everything. And in this one particular class, we had two students taking this class together, and they happen to both be called one was Daniel on one was Danny one was tall, one was short, one was quiet, one was kind of outgoing. But I heard from the professor that they kind of sat in the middle of the class. And they were the glue that just kept the class together, their excitement about the content, they're not taking for granted their opportunity to be there, and their humor, or their humility, it just brought the class together. And I think that is the magic that we see everywhere. You know, we have heard from our peer mentors, the first time I heard it, it definitely made me cry. And then other times, I now just get chills, but they will be on panels sometimes. And they speak about what they do, and the impact that this experience is having on them as university students at Vanderbilt, it's a pretty cool place to get to go to school. And I have heard this over and over now. And they will tell us, my involvement with next steps has been the single most important part of my entire college career. That just says mountains, because the experience there is pretty incredible. I mean, this even includes their trips abroad and the faculty that we have, right? It, it informs the person they want to be for the rest of their lives. So if you imagine that trickle effect on maybe the employer, they're going to become the friends that they're going to include in their lives. Maybe they're going to be legislators and the type of legislation they're going to be supporting, if they're going to be a physician. And we have a lot of pre med students. They're like, I want to include people with developmental disabilities in my practice. So it's huge. We also have faculty that maybe start out a little timid, not sure how this is going to work. And they come to a point now where we have some people saying, you know, I'm not interested in teaching, if I don't have a student with from next steps in my program, they bring such reality and such an atmosphere to my class, and it prompts me to be thinking in such a visceral way, am I making this material accessible to everybody? Right? I'm becoming a better instructor, because of next steps are employers on campus are the same as what you experienced? Now? They, they, we have professors asking to have students in their classes, we have internship placements asking us, we would love to be considered for a site. And then of course, students apply to be ambassadors with us a pyramid tours.

Naveh Eldar  23:08  
And I can see and I think I even read an article or I saw an interview with a student that didn't have a disability at Vanderbilt that was talking about just how impactful the program had been on them, which is what what prompted the question, I was wondering, is this widespread? Or is this isolated? So it's very cool. So you

Tammy Day  23:25  
will hear this on every college campus or community college that you have such programs.

Naveh Eldar  23:33  
And so a student applies. So many students apply you you assess them, X amount of students are admitted each year? How is it funded? Is it completely just private funded? Is there grants for it? How does that work?

Tammy Day  23:50  
It's going to be different across the country, to wherever each university is where each state is. And so in so the, the goal of any, any entity on our campus is to be sustainable, to be self sustaining. So for us, our tuition is growing to the point where the tuition does pay for all of our staff. And we are in the process of working very hard to try to get to a point where we can offer scholarships, so that it's not just students that have means to pay for the ability to go to college. But also in each state, we are working across the country to find dollars. So I mentioned a little bit earlier, there's something called a comprehensive transition program. This will probably eventually become that accreditation piece that I was talking about. And so when a program reaches that level, and the federal government says yes, your program meets the standards, then students with an intellectual disability have the same Federal tuition dollars as any eligible student. So you complete the FAFSA and you get the Pell Grant, you get the supplemental aid. And that helps a lot. You know, that helps a lot. In our state of Tennessee, we have some fantastic partners. Also in our state legislature. Tennessee is very fortunate and that we have a lottery education lottery dollars in our state is called the HOPE Scholarship. So about 2014, our legislators might have been a little bit later than that. They decided that yes, students that are enrolled in these programs in our state, they should also be able to have the hope lottery dollars, it has a little different name, but they get the same dollars as any other Tennessee high school student to go to college. Then our last strong partner funding partner right now for the students tuition is vocational rehabilitation. 91% of the students graduating from next steps have meaningful employment. That is a fantastic statistic.

Naveh Eldar  26:05  
That's an amazing statistic. Yes.

Tammy Day  26:07  
And so VR realizes, you know, wow, this is incredible training, the outcome is there. So currently, when we when all of the programs in our state started, we were all a two year program. I wish that we had a little bit more foresight in working with VR, because we asked for funding for two years. Now that we're a four year program. That's where we're finding some of our students are not able to continue, because VR is giving each students each of their clients $6,000 a year towards their tuition. So there is some help, there is some help. And then there are outside entities, the students who go out and they try to find scholarships and things. So it's self pay. And some programs like this that make it more affordable.

Naveh Eldar  26:57  
I was going to ask about your outcomes, you shared them already. That is amazing. So I just want to put into context with the listeners. You've heard me speak about in other episodes, if you listen. But for for individuals, specifically with an intellectual disability, the employment rate in competitive integrated employment, which is what you're talking about, is only around 13 or 14%. for that population in general across so to have a 91% employment rate coming out of the program is absolutely phenomenal. And that's across like, how many years is Vanderbilt happy? Yeah.

Tammy Day  27:35  
Well, we're celebrating our 10th anniversary this year, we accepted our first students in 2010. So yes, that data, we keep checking on them. Are you still employed? Are you still working? Have you changed jobs? And so right, where that is an include incredible benchmark for us.

Naveh Eldar  27:55  
And do you know, do you share data? Or is there a website that has the data like from across the country? Like, is that typical that 90%? Or is that does Vanderbilt Excel above other universities?

Tammy Day  28:11  
I think it's a little bit above, but I think college would be the place where they probably do have that employment data they do in our reports that we give to the federal government, you know, for these model demonstration sites, I believe nationally, that number is going up to people who graduate from programs to be like between 60 and 70% have paid employment. I know that our sister city right across town from us the ideal program, their statistics are right up there in our state of Tennessee when we we have six programs in our state now. So across the state of Tennessee, I believe we are at 80%.

Naveh Eldar  28:52  
That's amazing. That's fantastic. So why did you get involved in this work? What What led you to where you are right now?

Tammy Day  29:01  
Yeah. So it actually goes back to me. I was became aware of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. And Annie Sullivan was Helens teacher. So until Annie Sullivan arrived in Helens life, you know, she was deaf, and blind. And her world was so small. And when I read about and learned about how this teacher was able to open up the world for her, and to make connections and support so that she could interact with her world. I just decided that's what I want to do. I want to to become a special education teacher. So in college, I was able to work as a counselor for a whole summer at a camp, all kinds of people, but it just solidified for me. Oh my gosh, I'm getting so much back from this population, but it It's also challenging. How can I make this work and to be creative and to try things? And I've never wished that I had chosen something else to do. It absolutely feeds me and keeps me moving forward. And I can see the difference that it makes. Right. I want to make a difference, and I can see it.

Naveh Eldar  30:21  
How long have you been at Vanderbilt?

Tammy Day  30:23  
I have been at Vanderbilt since 2009. Yeah. So I was a part of a task force that was looking at bringing this type of college programming to our state. And then when the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities offered a grant to, to develop a pilot program, and Vanderbilt was given that I applied, never thinking that I could get it because I didn't, I thought I would need a PhD. But so I was fortunate enough to get to start nine months before our first students came. So you know, there was no program like this in our state, there was no footprint for me to build on. So it was quite a territory to explore.

Naveh Eldar  31:10  
So we are going to back up a little bit. Why was there a need to even have these programs? If you can go back like like, yeah, before any of these programs existed? Why did advocates feel like this is something that needs to happen?

Tammy Day  31:26  
Right? For me, it's a social justice question. Like how can you expect young people to continue maturing and reaching their potential if they do not have access to meaningful inclusive learning communities after high school, people who listen to your podcast probably still use the term of you know, after high school, you're just kind of dropping off a cliff, there's nothing there, right. And so these programs were needed as a way for us to get into higher education. I wasn't done at 18, I can't imagine if I didn't have the opportunity to go to college and all that, that opened up to me and continue growing and learning. But I already spoke about this earlier, but I want to come back to it in that the long term goal is these programs will disappear. And probably under the arm of the student access centers, etc. The universities are going to evolve and realize we can support these students there is meaningful coursework and career exploration opportunities, etc. And it's just a part of who we are, you know, for a while women couldn't go to college, and then women were able to go, etc. So, yeah, it's a social justice question. They have the right to continue growing and developing with peers.

Naveh Eldar  32:56  
Right, exactly. And, and you're looking now, and I'm 50, I just turned 50 in October. And when you look at the changes that have occurred for people with disability, specifically intellectual developmental disability, since I was in high school, in college, it's been tremendous with inclusive sports inclusive education. Focus on integrated employment, in your own words, like what is the importance of inclusion, and what are the benefits of inclusion,

Tammy Day  33:31  
the importance of inclusion is that brings us to that conversation of belonging, which to me is what our lives rest upon that sense of belonging and that sense of relationships. That's what we all that drives our lives, it brings meaning to our lives. And it's a very reciprocal thing, we spent a good amount of time talking about the benefits of having this population to others and to the classroom to the workplace. So that's, that, to me is why not just being integrated there, here, they're a part of our office space, etc. But they are included. They belong here. You know, universal design is you're not going back and retrofitting. But as you're planning, you're planning for all all people to be able to access. So universal design and inclusion, I think, go hand in hand.

Naveh Eldar  34:36  
At this time, I want to bring on fermina, who is a recent graduate of the ideal program at Lipscomb University, and she had a focus on entertainment and event planning. So for Mina, how did you find your interest in event planning? When When did that happen?

Fermina Lopez  34:55  
When I was in high school, I took different programs in high school to prepare myself to get to the ideal program. So I did a program called Project shots. And that kind of propelled me a little bit what I want to do. So for entertain many event planning, that was never my goal. I always wanted to do daycare. That was the first thing I want to do. Gotcha. So I stepped into high school with that. But when I saw doing different things like general to wall, cleaning, doing office walk, being an assistant, then that's what I was like, Okay, I've got different job titles, different job skills, what else is out there, and I went to a concert. He's a Christian rapper called Annie Mineo. And others saw these people doing different things behind the stage, putting things on the stage, prepping the single before going on. So I went up to on them and acts, hey, what is your job title. And they looked at me it was like, on this being like a production assistance, kind of walk in the attainment business. And I was like, that's why I want to do. So that's why I lead into the ideal program. That was my goal. And then when I took event planning, move, that was one of the classes I took, I was like, You know what, I like planning things. I want to be production assistant with event planning, how can I make my own event and do the production to it. So that's where all started.

Naveh Eldar  36:48  
First of all, very good on you for just walking up to the person and ask, my son is like that, like my son. He likes he drums. And if we go somewhere, and somebody's having like, a, you know, really good we were in Harlem once and we were in this really great restaurant with this great band playing and he just walked up to the drummer during the break. We didn't even know where he went. And just had this really long conversation about like, the business and, and all these sorts of things. So were you always like that, were you always just outgoing? And hey, let me or did your parents encouraged you to be like that? Or what?

Fermina Lopez  37:23  
You know, that's a good question. You know, because a lot people see me doing so many things like in attainment, and speaking and going out. And, but I was never like that high school. I was never I was OSI pawson sat back when school came home. That's all I did. But when I stepped into I do, that's where all came out. So making friendships. I was a part of a sorority that really grew my social life and grew my independence and being out there because I'm seeing all my sisters doing it because some of them I'm Theodore Stan them I do and I bought casting selling them or doing newsletters, some of them are doing the Red Dog going and doing all that so I'm like, oh, wow, how do you guys get there they go well, with x people, when we see someone doing something we asked, Hey, what are you doing? Because that's why I want to start man conversation with that. So having like friendships and having that with a super people kind of grew rahmat today.

Naveh Eldar  38:39  
That is great. How in? When did you decide to go through David Lipscomb University's ideal program? First of all, for those of you who don't know, there's a few programs in Nashville. There's the next steps at Vanderbilt, and then the ideal at table. Let's come. So just At what age? Did you even know it existed? And did you decide? Yes, this is what I want to do.

Fermina Lopez  39:02  
When I was I will have to say, my whole entire life. I knew I want to do something like my parents. I want to have the same experience. At the time when I was in high school. My dad and sister was in college. Okay, my sister was at NASA stay and my dad was at ossipee. And then I saw helping out with him at different events. So when they had like game nights, I used to stop participating. And like the basketball game, the volleyball games, the football games, so I haven't not filming went to homecoming with him. And so all that kind of bought in my like, you know what, I want this for myself. Yeah, that's him and that's my sister doing it. But now I want to have this. So will how I found the ideal program was actually my VR counselor. book we have actually helped me with that he gave me a list of schools, Tennessee has so many different schools than the ideal program and Vanderbilt those programs in Memphis is a program in Knoxville, Jackson, all those different programs I taught each one. So what I did was each school is great, I you know, but find the best one for you. I had to narrow it down from two and that was UT Knox and the ideal program. So I do was pause and pose I you know what's good about it was not good about it. And what I really wanted to do was be in a sorority, so that wouldn't narrow that down to David Lipscomb. His campus was small, so I like that also that it wasn't too big.

Naveh Eldar  41:02  
Right? That is great. So you just like, you know, that's what your family saw them do it. You saw it was a fun experience. They learned a lot. And you're like that. That's what I wanted to do. I mean, I think that's like what a lot of people do, right? That's awesome. I'm gonna get back to your sorority later. That's gonna be a later question. So, did you live on campus? When you were there? Did you stay at home?

Fermina Lopez  41:26  
No, I was a commute on

Naveh Eldar  41:27  
your computer. Okay, so what did you What did you feel? The first time you went on campus? I have a daughter who's a senior in high school, and she's going to be going off to college next year. And you know, everybody has that different butterflies or they're scared or hope I don't get lost. You know, whatever you were feeling. What was it like for you when you very first started your classes at Dave Lipscomb?

Fermina Lopez  41:52  
Oh, gosh, I was so like, panicky, I was nervous. I did not know anyone. Of course, they did a session during the summer, called the summer program, the Summer Academy. So I went through that process. I stayed on the campus for like a week, and I got the feel of it. But I want to be a committee. That's why I want to do but the first day I remember, I was walking up to what we all put in me for the ideal student has behind me a sign Oh, yes, I saw like, getting hacked. Only everyone was like, You know what? their schedules. I had mine. It was just big. And I was like, Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this? I have to go to what building and I was it like panicking. But at the end of day, we had a staff member walk me to the class for that we kind of try to get comfortable. So I think just growing up and doing things on your own, that's hard. And I had to do was like, You know what? This is why I want to do it just the first week. Let me see what next week look like.

Naveh Eldar  43:08  
And how long did it take before you were like, yeah, this is nothing.

Fermina Lopez  43:12  
Pawnee that second week.

Naveh Eldar  43:15  
Okay. That's not that doesn't take too long. Very nice. And do you is it you went through a two year program? Right? Yes, it's a two year part because I know Vanderbilt has a four year program, which is new for them. They were two year first as well. So do the second year students help the first year students? Or do you just make fun of them and laugh at them for being so nervous?

Fermina Lopez  43:38  
And that's a funny question. No, we actually, you know, we're all the I those dinners were fairly funny to anyone. I remember the first day, you know, I was nervous. So when there's new students coming in danavas to soccer, but you know what, it's okay. You can get your classroom. It's fine. It's not as Novak in. We stay at a group. It's you can spot us on campus. I everyone knows. Those are the ideal students that that, you know, they know, everyone's different. But I think all of us, even me, I didn't know in the first day it was this young boy who came into the program. And he needed help at the end of the day because he couldn't find his mom. So he was like all panicking. And he was like, oh, my goodness, what am I going to do? So I kind of went up to him said, Hey, are you okay? And he was like, my mom's not here and I go, Okay, well take a breather, calm down to sit down. I'm waiting for my dad to pick me up. I'm committed to so why don't we just read together? And why don't you call your mom and see where she's at. And they we all went home safe. He got it. Did mom buy? Right? He felt comfortable because I did that he was okay. He's comfortable come up to me and helping me, you know.

Naveh Eldar  45:09  
And so the the program is really, you know, divided. Well, you take you take classes, you take courses, you get to choose those and then you do internships. But I want to start with the courses like, how, what is the word I'm looking for? How intimidating was it for you to walk into a university course and sit down and just have the professor just go? And then also, did you have a class that you just absolutely loved?

Fermina Lopez  45:39  
Oh, yes, I remember walk into all my classes with just a space where like, Oh my gosh, I'm so scared. And I took a lot of different classes. I took Spanish. One, I took communications I took on camera delivery, I took event planning, I took acting for Nami jaws and make makeup for the stage. I took jazz, and I took creativity jomax for children's. And I took costume design and independent study. But one of the classes that I was so skilled at what communications so when I sat down when the professor came up and start giving us like, Okay, the first thing you have to do, you had to come up here and explain yourself. And one minute, and I was like, wait, no, it was day one. That was day one. It was like day two, day three, day four, you were like, on the spot. Explain yourself in one minute. I was like, oh, okay, I was so shaky. I was nervous. My hands or like getting slimy, or was beating really fast. I was like, Oh my goodness, what is going to happen? But I went up there. He kind of like, Okay, stop. I had gay critiques. I'm like, Wait, what? I got this dog with this doing this. Okay, number one, don't put your hands in your pocket. Number two, please stop touching your hair. I don't know why you're touching your hair. But that's not where you need to be doing. Number two, number three. Just yesterday, you're moving to back and forth. And I was like, Oh, my God, is this teacher gonna correct me every single time I make a space and it's vog. But you said What is your favorite class you heard that took so many of our people think? Why am I acting classes require would be my favorite. But actually, it's communications. I think if it wasn't for communications, I probably wouldn't be doing this podcast.

Naveh Eldar  47:52  
So right. Awesome. Yes. Awesome. It's often those up tough teachers that you learn so much, right? And they feel they make you feel like I've grown under this person. So little known fact about me. I also took acting for non majors when I was in college. And I honestly went into the class thinking I was going to be really good. And it took me half of a class to realize how terrible I was like we had these exercises. And I was I was just terrible. Anyway, that's just something for you and my listeners to know that we have in common. I'm sure you were better than me, though. And so now I want to hear a little bit about the internships that you did. Did you did you have again, I don't want to talk about any of the ones that maybe weren't the best fit. I want to hear about the ones that left a good impression on you the ones that helped you realize what you wanted to do. So what was one or two internships that really helped guide what you wanted to do for a career?

Fermina Lopez  48:51  
Oh, that is so good. I have so many great internships during the program. I really have to say my first internship I ever have with either program was my favorite one. That was the Allen novena, I hope, and the event management process. They gave me a lot of the skills I hoped at the devil was at Lipscomb University, escorted people to the rooms or getting the rooms ready. Stand by the stage, you know, listen to the sound, preparing for, you know, the stays. I helped do the tickets when people came down looking for the seats. I did that and that really helped me what I want to do. I've got to meet clock, Franklin. You know, I helped him out for a little bit. He was so nice. But my second internship has to be the first museum. That was my last year.

Naveh Eldar  49:55  
I think what I think the first time I met you, you were either about to start You just started that internship. So what was that, like?

Fermina Lopez  50:03  
The first museum was great. I got to do so many things with the first I got to help out with planning different events, different things they want to do. I help them do a gala presentation, I've got like pictures, put it into a PowerPoint for them, sat down with them, Hey, this is what you want. And they go, yes. Got to help out with one of the best I went enjoy was the Native American asset process. She came and farm, I believe what town I think it's from East Nashville, she came from, like two hours away, she came and she was in her whole beautiful dress with her little all the steps you want, I was home assistant for the day, I got to walk along the whole Museum, I got to talk to her, tell her what she feels about her called saw and how she goes about, you know, winning the Accept princess of the year again, it was pretty cool. And I also got to help out and art crests and museum. That was really fun. I had, you know, seen different kids coming in. And now that was over the plight of the day, I've got to take pictures for the first museum. I do a lot with them, like doing setting up tables, taking down tables. And that goes with like the first internship I did where I do with doing the double wars and all that, because that's why I want to do with my path. entertainment business.

Naveh Eldar  51:49  
You know, not everybody is lucky enough to to get that kind of exposure and hands on work when they're in college, you know?

Fermina Lopez  51:57  

Naveh Eldar  51:58  
So you and I just mentioned a minute ago that you were because you've graduated from the program. Now when did you graduate?

Fermina Lopez  52:05  
I graduated in May 20.

Naveh Eldar  52:09  
Congratulations. But when you and I met you were We were on a panel together and the panel was on around being Person Centered when supporting people with disabilities, right. And so we were presenting to vocational rehabilitation staff from across the state. And actually, we sat on a couple panels together with the same topic. So I'm going to go ahead and ask him thrown you out there because I've heard you speak about it. What is the importance of being person centered and really listening to a person that has a disability and in the fact that we even have to have panels to help talk about that.

Fermina Lopez  52:50  
You know, I was saying, you know, sometimes when you sit down with someone with a disability, you just like to over talk over them. Like this is what you want do, okay, we'll write that down. But you don't give them the chance to even say, hey, that's why I want to do on No, that's not my interest. And talking to people with a disability, there's so many different levels, different people, you have people like me, sit down, let's send them but after what they need to test, some people are very, very quiet and they don't want to speak. So when you talk over them, or don't allow them to the same thing. But they actually go inside. That's not why I want to do but I'm just going to sit here quietly and decide this not same thing. So the main important thing is having them involved, you know, talking to them, like you will talk to one of your fans, one of your siblings or one of your child, you know, they're all the same people with disabilities just like everyone else, they feel like we feel they know what they want, you know, so please take that into something seriously. You know, if someone says, Hey, I we want to do something in the photography, business, listen, that's what they'll go is and they keep on saying that over and over. That's when that's what the passion is about. But now they come up to you say, Oh, I do photography. Okay, no, no, no, I want to do something else now. Maybe that's okay. Maybe they thought they want to be a photographer. But then they were like, hey, that's harder than I thought it was. Maybe do something else. And that's okay. Just listen and take the time with them. And just because at the end of the day, they may surprise you what they're gonna do next.

Naveh Eldar  54:39  
And what I love about your path, your journey is that you know, many times, even as adults, we don't know we want to do like my, you know, my wife has changed careers as an adult. Many people do. Most college students change their major, right because a lot of times we don't know we want because we haven't seen it yet. And what's great about both Project SEARCH, and from everything you're saying about the ideal program is that you got to see things and go, Oh, wow, you know, that could be like a really cool job. So I think that's also like a really key part is to make sure that that everybody is exposed to different types of jobs and different courses in college and different courses in high school and all that kind of good stuff. It's so When was the first time you and it may have been in your class that you just spoke about? When is the first time she spoke publicly? Because you have a ton of confidence, which also is not something that everybody has.

Fermina Lopez  55:41  
Oh, yeah. My first ever, you know, course, I took communications, I speak upon the class. But my ever first time speaking, in front of a huge crowd, has to be at the mega conference they have in Nashville, Tennessee, with Gina. net, and net, Angie. They told me Hey, for me now, why can you come on this panel, and speak about your experience with ideal program, and how it is, when you're gonna be on a panel with another girl? I'm like, okay, and how it is being independent. And that first day, I was like, oh, my goodness, I'm so nervous. I, you know, causal force, I'm doing a huge cloud, you don't know now these people in the audience, you don't know who's listening. Y'all know you're doing anything by along. So I did that the best I can. And at the end of the day, now, look where I'm at.

Naveh Eldar  56:46  
My last regular question. And then I have a few personal questions, I always end with a few personal questions is, you know, looking back, what advice would you give to people who are thinking about joining a post secondary program, like the ideal program?

Fermina Lopez  57:04  
You know, that is a wonderful question. That's as your podcast is. So as he asked me, so this is actually a question that I never asked him before. So this is going to be the first time have you heard my answer? I really think the best advice to get people is if you really want to do something like the program, want to go to callers, make sort, you speak up and your IP meetings at high school. And please, if that's your idea, started when you're a junior, because when you are seeing your desk, the time, when you need start looking at colleges, so when you're a junior, you need to put down your IP, meaning you may speak up to Hey, this is my goal. That's gonna be my transition go after high school, to go straight to college to take and prepare you what causes it is because sometimes you think, Okay, I won't go to college. But then when you get there is like a whole different ballgame. It's so different. You know, in high school, they teach you all these things about being a dog, you're gonna be independent one day, and but when you live it is a whole different story is like, wait a minute, I want me back out of med school. Wait a minute, no, that's not what I signed up for. But I will recommend if you're one those who really want a passion for your career, or even your learning experience, if you want to keep learning go to on the schools, but that does so many great programs out there to help you with your benefits and your needs. Just keep following your dreams do it because I did it. And I've lost so much for being an idol program. I grew from this side. You know, soft pawson having my dad do everything for me. And now I'm making my own choices for myself. I read in these programs all what the going to

Naveh Eldar  59:17  
awesome. I love it. Thank you, and David Lipscomb will will will love it too. I'll take their name out of everything. They are not paying me. I'm joking. Last, I have personal questions. That's how I always end and I'm going to start with Tammy. My first one is I love this question. I actually stole this from one of our member advocates, Asia. If a movie were made about you, what actor or actress would you want to play you? And it can be accurate? I've had people answer this question. I asked this in training sometimes. And I sometimes will have AIPAC cartoon characters named I've heard everything so everything's on the board. Who would play you In a movie about your life,

Tammy Day  1:00:03  
even if they're too old to play it, is

Fermina Lopez  1:00:04  
that okay?

Naveh Eldar  1:00:05  
That is absolutely okay.

Tammy Day  1:00:07  
Okay. Um, I think I would go with Vanessa Redgrave.

Naveh Eldar  1:00:12  
Okay, and why? Why do you pick that? Why do you pick Vanessa?

Tammy Day  1:00:17  
I think that she is such an intentional person with a deep soul and commitment to what she does. So, yeah, I think she would get it. I think she would get what drives me.

Naveh Eldar  1:00:33  
Nice. And you know, you don't look on similar. I think they could pull that off. The second one is the holidays are upon us. And what is one of your favorite holiday movies? Oh,

Tammy Day  1:00:49  
it's a wonderful life. It's it's the one that I watch every year.

Naveh Eldar  1:00:54  
You like the classics. And we were we were talking before the recording and you have people close in your life that are actually on Broadway. We don't have to go into all of that. But do you have a favorite Broadway play? Oh,

Tammy Day  1:01:09  
I think it would have at this point it would have to be the king and I what a social justice statement and what a progressive woman and such a strong woman and yeah, it's just beautiful as well.

Naveh Eldar  1:01:25  
Okay, and now your turn for Mina. And so they're some of them are kind of connected to you know, what, what your goal is, but I want to know, what event would you most love to be part of like, I mean, this is like huge dream like the Oscars or the MTV awards or whatever it may be. What What is the event that you would love to be part of?

Fermina Lopez  1:01:53  
I really want to travel with someone I want to travel with someone like you know, cuz I listened to on gone they all gone is like my biggest artists out there. But I really want to travel with someone, you know, on Broadway. Oh, nice. So like, you know, having that feeling of being behind the scenes game though, you know, alphas ready. Have a little checkbook say, Hey, you know, come to the stage. Oh, waiting for you. Just getting off the bus at them and having that filming. That's one thing that I want to do is a travel with someone just huge. It can just be anyone traveling with them, learning who they are. Seeing how that feels like when when you see someone on stage. But then you have all these different people behind them like, Oh, this is all gonna come in on stage or this is so and so. And I just want to have that feeling.

Naveh Eldar  1:02:57  
And so I'm gonna have a follow up question of that. So you would prefer sounds like you would prefer to be with like the Broadway traveling group. Like you want to go to different cities? Yes. Not just be on Broadway and everyday the same place. Very fun. It sounds like you'd like to travel to

Fermina Lopez  1:03:14  
Yes. I love to travel.

Naveh Eldar  1:03:16  
Yeah. So you've already talked about Ariana Grande? De so that may be the answer. But I actually have the question of what what concert would you most like to go to?

Fermina Lopez  1:03:27  
Oh, what concert cuz I've been to so many concerts. That's what it kind of was started with me at a young age. You know, I didn't speak until I was almost five. You know, growing up, I only talked to my family. But music was my passion. You know, having loud music. And my first ever concert was kisa. co star. So I went to that when I was like, five or six. And then it did build up from there. But someone that I have not seen the concert. I really want to see this person. He's a country singer. Ah. And it's Kane Brown. I want to see him a concert so bad. That's wrong with an NES console Pogo too. But yes.

Naveh Eldar  1:04:21  
All right. Look at you, Keyshia Cole and the country. You have you have a wide range of musical interests. Yes. So. So my last question is going back to the beginning of the interview. So what sorority do you belong to?

Fermina Lopez  1:04:34  
I am a part of the delta delta omega and omega delta omega just I'm a part of that sorority at Lipscomb University. I plus October of 2018. And I, you know, those girls are so amazing. I have a big and she's so amazing. We still keep in contact. I am so keep in contact with some of the people in my sorority, we chat all the time, we, you know, one of them, I build a close vessel with, you know, every time when I need something, though they are, you know, this person, particularly she saw me in so made that way she saw me happy, sad, mad, you know, until I was and, and is having that phone with someone who's so close to me helped me to be the person I am today. So that swany brought me up to be who I am, and be proud of who I am because so many girls who pledge and be in different clubs, you know, are different. And you know, delta omega is one of the clubs that I really enjoyed being in you know, we there's so much we I helped out with the video we had do for the fall of 2019 we had the like little video so I have gray do is you know, come join do but I want those people will I be honest with some of the girls, you know, we have so many girls come in the wash week pledge week. And they bid on this doing this because my best friends are pledging for so and so and I don't even know I want to do this. I go. Okay, I mean, that's what you think I go. So it's not gonna hurt you. A heart heart that you're doing this if you don't want to do it. And that's your choice. And every deal girl and every club out there is great. But I love my club with anything.

Naveh Eldar  1:06:49  
And I just now noticed it. Did you actually wearing a delta omega top? And I did not even it's small, you know to give so so people don't laugh at me and say how did you not notice it? It's just it's written in cursive letters like on like, where the pocket would go. There is no pocket. But so it's not. It's not like the typical, like huge letters of authority. But Very good. Very nice. I know that you said that was one of the reasons you went there. And obviously, you enjoy that sisterhood very much. So look for Mina. As always, it was great talking to you. I've loved presenting with you. So when I when I decided to do this episode, I was like, Yeah, I need to get I need to reunite this, my partner, so we can have another talk. And so I really appreciate everything that you shared with us. And it was great information. And the best of luck with everything. And hopefully, this this pandemic will be over soon. And then you can start really really pursuing your your other path. So

Fermina Lopez  1:07:53  
yes, absolutely. And thank you for having me share my podcast, which hopefully, we will walk again soon.

Naveh Eldar  1:08:02  
Thanks. Thank you so much, Tammy. I really appreciate you coming on and it's it's very hectic, I know for you especially with all the college campuses are going through turmoil right now with COVID. And that impacts you like firsthand. And so I know you have your hands full so so thank you for taking the time out to come on.

Tammy Day  1:08:24  
It has been a real pleasure. And thank you so much Nabil for the work that you're doing and bringing real context and texture to the life and the landscape of people living with and working in the field of disabilities. I thank you so much.

Naveh Eldar  1:08:44  
You will find a link to think college in the episode description where you can search and learn about all the programs across the country and more. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast, leave a review and give a star rating if you listen on Apple podcasts. I'll be back on January 10 2021. With an episode where you will be hearing a little bit more about me as I will be interviewed by a friend of mine. But next year we'll also see some very exciting guests touching on topics such as limb differences and initiative for the disability community by the United Nations and how employment impacts your benefits. Next year. We'll also see several international guests who I'm very excited to speak to and some of you may recognize one or two of them. Until then, enjoy the many holidays taking place around the world this month and have a happy new year.

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