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Destination Dawgs: Opening Doors for Intellectually Disabled Students

Darby Miller has worked with the Fanning Institute to bring Destination Dawgs to UGA.
Darby Miller has worked with the Fanning Institute to bring Destination Dawgs to UGA. (Keion Pitts,

The new inclusive post-secondary education program, Destination Dawgs, will give five students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to attend the University of Georgia (UGA) in spring 2017.

The non-degree program will allow students with intellectual disabilities to attend UGA courses with the support of peer mentors and a Destination Dawgs transition teacher. Students who complete the program will receive a certificate of completion.

“This program is really geared towards employment outcomes and good adult lives just like most students who come to college. We are looking into classes that teach computer skills, understanding the world around you, and financial management. Classes that students would need no matter what they choose to study or what type of job they want”, said Dr. Carol Britton Laws, program director of Destination Dawgs.

According to an article from Georgia UGAzine, Destination Dawgs started off as a platform point proposed by Jim Thompson, former Student Government Association (SGA) vice president. After Thompson graduated, Darby Miller, former SGA executive, carried on his platform and worked with the Fanning Institute to judge the feasibility of bringing a program like this to UGA.

“It’s a massive university and having a program like this is very expensive. Think about if we added another major or degree that would cost a lot of money,” Miller said.

Listen to how Destination Dawgs got started from Dr. Carol Britton Laws and Darby Miller, respectively (pictured: Dr.Carol Britton Laws)

Students entered in the program are expected to pay a program fee of $1500 per semester for a five semester term. The program fee does not include housing cost, books, or housing supplies. Students would have to pay for tuition depending on the number of courses they take. According to Laws, the students will likely be taking six or seven credits in the spring semester. According to data from the UGA Bursar, the cost for an in state undergraduate student taking six hours or less is $2,782.

Initially, there will not be any on-campus housing for the students. According to Anna Lawrence, program coordinator, the program is aiming to offer on campus housing by January 2018.

The role UGA students can contribute to the incoming class

The program fee will be used to pay the program coordinator who will serve the students by matching them with peer mentors. Typically, enrolled students can decide to be health and wellness mentors, social mentors, or academic mentors and partner with a Destination Dawg student in order to help them maximize their time in the classroom and on campus.

The program coordinator will also help students to identify classes that align with the employment outcomes they hope to have and benefit students that seek a disabilities studies certificate.

During the month of October 2016, the Destination Dawgs students visited UGA campus and worked alongside Lawrence to assess their skills and interests. Some of the activities include learning how to properly communicate on the college level and planning how to be a successful college student.

Listen to program coordinator, Anna Lawrence, explain the expectations for peer mentors

Transitioning the Destination Dawg students from college into the workforce

In addition to the program coordinator, Destination Dawg students will also receive assistance from Dr. Lisa Ulmer who serves as the academic instructor. Ulmer’s main responsibility is to help the students in their academic classes and to help them transition from college into the real world. She will help the students use assistive technology to access their textbooks and conduct study halls to help the students understand their class assignments.

During the first two semesters, the students will take three course. As they continue through the program, the students will take less classes and focus more on outside work experiences. By the fifth semester, the students will primarily spend their time working at a paid or unpaid internships getting ready for employment.

‘We are not teaching skills in isolation. We are teaching them already in a natural setting. So these students will not have to generalize the skills from a restrictive setting to the real world. They will be directly learning these skills in the real world”, Ulmer said.

Destination Dawg students learning side by side with UGA students

Destination Dawgs received interest from Megan Ward, an instructor from the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication New Media Institute, who wants the Destination Dawg students to participate in her two classes about job training.

“The goal of the instruction for the Destination Dawg program is for none of the instruction to change. They are going to have a one hundred percent inclusive experience”, Ward said.

On November 12, the Destination Dawg students were welcomed to the University of Georgia during the UGA verses Auburn football game. The students along with the Destination Dawg staff stood on the football field while their names were being called. You can watch footage of the event on the Destination Dawgs website.

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