Left to right: University of Cincinnati TAP student Stephen Krawee, Karly Saeks, Brett Eisentrout, Arielle Bachrach, Benjamin Minney, Peter Merz and student teacher Erin Vogt posed here at the TAP house patio. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II
A milestone march
UC celebrates first graduating class of students with intellectual disabilities
by Rachel Richardson and Dawn Fuller
April 27, 2016
For many students, college graduation represents a celebration of student achievement and success. For the first graduates of the Transition Access Program (TAP) at the University of Cincinnati, the milestone march across the stage will also mark the breaking of a barrier in higher education.
Seven students from the program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities will take part in UC’s spring commencement ceremony at 9 a.m., Saturday, April 30, in Fifth Third Arena.
Post-secondary educational options were just a pipe dream for many of these students when UC launched its TAP program in 2012 within the College of Education, Criminal Justice & Human Services (CECH). The novel program offers a non-degree option for students with mild-to-moderate intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome and Asperger’s syndrome.
Their experience mirrors that of any other student on campus: They go to class, gain work experience through internships, join clubs, hang out with friends and participate in college life. And not only are TAP students actively engaging in a true college experience, they’re acquiring skills and knowledge that promote lifelong learning, social competency, independent living and preparation for careers that best fit their talents.
- No limits: Students with intellectual disabilities get a chance at the full college experience at UC
UC offered a unique element to its program when, in 2013, it opened the 26-bed Tap House residential community in its Stratford Heights Complex to provide TAP students with both an authentic learning and living experience. The program gained national recognition when it was featured later that year on an episode of the popular Fox TV series “Glee.”
We spoke with TAP’s first graduating class about their experiences with the program and what lies ahead.
Meet the graduates
Arielle Bachrach — Bachrach, 25, of Blue Ash, is a graduate of Sycamore High School. After graduation, she’s looking forward to living independently and working. She credits TAP with “tremendously increasing” her reading abilitiesand helping her gain skills toward independent living, such as grocery shopping, menu planning and cooking. Her internships have included positions as a dog handler at Dog Town Cincinnati and Puppy Camp. She also has worked as a teaching assistant for a UC professor in special education.
Brett Eisentrout – Eisentrout, 25, of Sharonville, is a graduate of Princeton High School. His internships have included cleaning rooms at the Ronald McDonald House, working in campus recycling with the Office of Sustainability; working as a teaching assistant for a UC associate professor of special education and working as an office assistant in CECH. “I’ve enjoyed all of my internships and all the social events at UC,” says Eisentrout. “I’ve enjoyed everything about being a UC student, I’ve made a lot of new friends” he says, adding, “I’m happy to be almost done.” After graduation Eisentrout says he plans to live at home and work at a local hospital.
Stephen Krawec – Krawec, 24, of Mason, is a graduate of Sycamore High School. After graduation, he says he hopes to work in a restaurant or a grocery store. He has served a number of internships in the restaurant business, including at Buffalo Wild Wings, Ladder 19 and Adriatico’s, where he worked in both vegetable and pizza sauce preparation. “I have been taught independent living skills and met a few loyal friends,” he says of his experience in TAP. “I have learned independence and hard work.” As with a lot of college students, he adds that he learned how to do his laundry when he lived at the TAP House.
Peter Merz – Merz, 23, of Delhi, graduated from Oak Hills High School in 2012. His internships included working in the mail room at Kroger during spring semester, the Highway 55 restaurant on McMillan Street near UC’s campus and as an office assistant for CECH. He also worked summers on the golf course at the Western Hills Country Club. Merz played drums with the UC Pep Band and says he’s enjoyed being a Bearcat and is looking forward to living independently in an apartment after graduation.
Benjamin Minney – Minney, 24, of Clermont County’s Miami Township, is a graduate of Milford High School. He interned as a teaching assistant in UC’s special education program. After graduation, he’s interested in pursuing a job in data entry assistance at a local hospital. Minney says TAP has helped him “discover and overcome, socialize and build relationships, ” and that living in the TAP House helped him gain skills in personal living.
Karly Saeks – Saeks, 25, of Blue Ash, is a graduate of Sycamore Community Schools. Her internships have included working at UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning Café and also with the Collaboration for Employment and Education Synergy, a new program in UC’s Center for Advancement and Transition Services, where she assisted with office work. Saeks says her UC experience has allowed her to remain with old friends and also make new friends. “Living at the TAP House is so much different than living at home because you are away from your parents, and you get to live with other people like your friends,” says Saeks. She says she’s looking forward to living on her own after graduation and working at a new café that will be opening as part of the renovation in Teachers College.
Walter Broadnax III – Broadnax, 21, of Wyoming, is a previous graduate of The Children’s Home of Cincinnati. His internships have included working as a teacher’s assistant at Cincinnati Public’s Hughes STEM high School as well as an office intern in UC’s special education program, where he applied his skills in technology. “There’s things I know how to do that professors didn’t know how to do,” Broadnax proudly says of his technology skills. “So they would ask me, and I would be like, here, this is how you do it. To be able to help somebody… with something that I know how to do very well is nice.”
TAP at a glance
TAP offers non-college credit, program-specific courses designed to support students in meeting their academic, vocational, social and independent living goals. In addition, TAP students can take some UC courses for audit or credit, providing inclusive participation with UC’s general student population.
Four inclusive vocational internships – on campus or in the local community – add valuable experiences and enhance skill development. TAP students also are active members of the campus community, enjoying active social lives and developing necessary independent living skills while residing in campus housing.
As part of their capstone project, students develop digital portfolios that demonstrate their skills and accomplishments.
TAP students develop their independence while learning study skills, basic computing, time management, financial management and career/professional development.
UC students from the general college population also have participated in TAP as mentors, pre-and-post teachers, job coaches and resident advisors.
The program, which began with eight students in 2012, has since expanded to 35 students from two countries (U.S. and Nigeria), seven states, 15 counties and 27 school districts.
A learning experience for all
Erin Vogt was inspired by family members with disabilities to pursue a career as a special education teacher. So, when the Finneytown freshman heard about the chance to work with TAP students as part of her degree program’s first-year learning community, she quickly got involved.
“I had a cousin with cerebral palsy who passed away when I was in high school, and I remember all of the people who turned out to attend her funeral,” said Vogt, who will graduate this month with a degree in special education. “So many people were there – her nurses, caregivers and teachers. It was eye-opening to see the lives that she touched when she couldn’t even speak, and I knew that I wanted to be around people like that.”
Vogt said that another inspirational relative with Down syndrome was a national swimmer with Special Olympics. “He lived to be 55 and was just as capable, if not more so, than everyone else to participate in his community and build a life that he truly enjoyed.”
UC’s first-year experience programs include learning communities that build both academic and social support for students as they pursue their college degree. Vogt’s freshman learning community met twice a week with the students in the first graduating TAP cohort.
Vogt continued her involvement with TAP in her sophomore and junior years, serving as a pre-and-post tutor for TAP students in which she met with students before classes and provided support for after-classroom assignments.
“I also worked as a job coach on their internships, doing everything they would do as we worked toward building their job skills. Once they gained that experience, the job coach then fades away, allowing the TAP student to work on their own,” she said.
Vogt spent her senior year living in the TAP House where she served as a resident adviser and became friends with the TAP students, many of whom she plans to keep in touch with after graduation.
“They bring me so much joy because they tell it like it is,” she said with a laugh. “Arielle gives me advice on my outfits. Peter Merz, he’s the light of the world and always knows how to put a smile on my face, even on my worst days.
“As far as college goes, we struggled with many of the same things,” Vogt added. “They want the same things that I want, and we’re all nervous about making the transition away from UC.”
As Vogt embarks on her professional career – teaching math to students with disabilities next fall at Cincinnati Public’s Riverview East Academy – she says her experience working with TAP students has only strengthened her teaching skills while teaching her how to create lasting and meaningful relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds
Expanding opportunity, building diversity
UC’s School of Education continues to expand opportunities for students with developmental disabilities with the announcement last fall of Advancement and Transition Services for People with Disabilities (ATS), a program dedicated to a world in which all people with disabilities are valued, dignified and engaged members of their communities.
In addition to TAP, ATS will oversee the college’s high school transition classes, a partnership that began in 2009 with students from Sycamore Schools, and the Collaboration for Employment and Education Synergy Project, which offers a 12-week individualized program to help students with disabilities find work and develop social skills
The program also includes the College Success Camp, a week-long camp for high school students with Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism who want to attend a four-year university, and Impact Innovation, which is geared toward providing employment and learning opportunities for people with autism spectrum disorder and other significant communication, sensory and behavioral differences.
Last fall, INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, one of the largest and oldest publications of its kind in higher education, selected UC as a winner of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. This honor – the only national designation of its kind – acknowledges U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.
For more information about TAP, contact Diane Clouse, EdD, at Diane.Clouse@uc.edu or 513-556-6611.
Rachel is a public information officer with the University of Cincinnati and a contributor to UC Magazine. As a former multimedia journalist and two-time alumna of UC's McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, Rachel is thrilled to have the opportunity to share the stories of UC's amazing community of faculty, staff, alumni and students. Rachel.Richardson@uc.edu