UMD is Experimenting with A Program to Assist Kids with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

This semester, the University of Maryland is launching a new program to assist students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The TerpsEXCEED program provides students with the opportunity to have a full-time college experience, from attending classes and living in dorms to hanging with friends and cheering on Maryland Athletics. 

According to Amy D’Agati, a senior faculty member at the university’s transition and career innovation center, the program aims to address a problem in higher education where possibilities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are limited. 

Students in the program enter the university as freshmen and stay for two years. Instead of pursuing a degree, individuals spend those years taking classes in fields that interest them and pursuing a certificate from the Office of Extended Studies. 

“We knew there was a tremendous need for high-quality, inclusive college opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Rachel London, executive director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council

The institution received a $100,000 grant from the council to help fund the program. D’Agati suggests that the grant money will be used for staffing needs as well as financial aid for students enrolled in the program. 

Students can take college classes, meet with peer mentors, live on campus if they like, and take an internship advising course in which they explore and apply for jobs. 

TerpsEXCEED’s initial class consists of only two students, but D’Agati says the institution has secured enough financing to continue the program for the next five years through grants and alumni donations. 

“We’re constantly, constantly looking for funding, we don’t want it to end. So, the goal is to keep [TerpmsEXCEED] going long enough that the campus recognizes it.”

Amy D’Agati

The program’s first participants are Zach McKay and Hari Kannan. 

Image Source – Zach McKay sits in the career center in Hornbake Library on Sept. 1, 2021 (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

McKay describes himself as a “big Terps fan” and hails from a family of university graduates. McKay, who has autism, would not have been able to attend college until this tear since there were no programs or classes particularly created to assist students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  

The Maryland native is passionate about music, and he is enrolled in a course on the history of popular music and is a member of this university’s men’s chorus. He’s been interested in music since high school, he claims. 

D’Agati was amazed by McKay’s ability to adjust to college life so fast. 

“The first day of college, I went to audition for the men’s chorus with ‘Hakuna Matata.”

Zach McKay

McKay is also looking forward to attending Maryland sporting events such as football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He claims he already has a red suit jacket and bow tie for games.  

Kannan, who has Downe syndrome, is concentrating his efforts on law enforcement and public speaking. Both kids claim to have discovered groups of buddies with whom they can hang out. 

Image Source – Hari Kannan sits in the Career Center in Hornbake Library on Sept. 1, 2021. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

“I like to be social.”

Hari Kannan

He enjoys public speaking and is looking forward to taking an oral communication class this semester. 

D’Agati noted that the ultimate goal of TerpsEXCEED is for Kannan and McKay to leave the university with a job in their field of study. 

Aside from the benefits of TerpsEXCEED for the students who participate, their peers on campus can benefit from being among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to London and D’Agati. Kannan and McKay are part of a peer mentor class with students pursuing a minor in disability studies.  

Between attending sporting events, socializing with friends, and attending classes, the TerpsEXCEED freshmen class is prepared for a hectic year.  

“I’m excited to learn what UMD has to offer me, I think I like it so far.” 

Hari Kannan
Image Source – Hari Kannan sits in the career center in Hornbake Library on Sept. 1, 2021. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

Information from The Diamondback

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Yaren Ay

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