Program offers friends for students with disabilities


The Appalachian Online

Tommy Culkin

Through a program called the College Life Fellows, the Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program at Appalachian State University has been able to provide a helping hand to the university’s students who have a physical or mental impairment.

The College Life Fellows program pairs a student with a roommate who eats meals with the student, plans and participates in activities with the student, helps arrange tutoring sessions and more.

“It’s someone who will be present in the residence halls and in their lives who can provide support around the idea of college life,” said Anna Ward, the director of SDAP.

Connor Burleson, a former student who was in the program, said fellows usually form deep and lasting friendships with their roommate. The fellow isn’t just an impersonal caretaker.

“[My roommate] was always there when I needed him, as a friend support,” Burleson said.

In addition to the roommates, the College Life Fellows program consists of hundreds of volunteers who spend an hour each week with the students, either helping them in the classroom or participating extracurricular activities with them.

Sarah Teel, a graduate student who works with the SDAP, said the program is built around the idea of inclusivity.

“We’re really building towards the inclusive model, so just building community that’s inclusive of everybody, including people with physical or intellectual disabilities,” Teel said.

The College Life Fellows program is currently hiring upperclassmen to be fellows beginning in the fall 2015 semester because none of the current roommates will be returning. They are hoping to hire between four and eight students.

Students will be paid between $600-$1,500, depending on their responsibilities, need and experience.

Preference will be given to students who want to live on campus and are willing to be involved in the new RLC, Appclusive: Celebrating Diverse Abilities.

Jake Thomas, a senior social work major who works with the SDAP, encourages people to apply because the job doesn’t entail much additional work.

“You do anything you’d normally do on a regular basis,” Thomas said. “This is just about involving your roommate and bridging that gap.”

The role of the fellow is expanding, Teel said, and doesn’t necessarily have to be a roommate.

The program began in 2010 at Appalachian. Since then, the idea has spread to other universities, including two from North Carolina. In the first year of the College Life Fellows program there was only one student, but this semester, there are seven students in it.

Thomas thinks the program is ultimately necessary because it can be the sole way some Appalachian students would be able to get the college experience.

“There should never be a difference in the way people are treated or the opportunities they should be able to have,” Thomas said. “This program exists for that reason. It’s not going to attract mainstream students, but it’s going to give those students who may have been the outcast in high school or middle school the opportunity to make those friends and to have those experiences that everyone else takes for granted.”

STORY: Tommy Culkin, News Reporter