SUCCESS: Vision of Self!

For my activism project, I decided to participate in UMBC’s SUCCESS program (Students United for Campus-Community Engagement for Post-Secondary Success ), a collaboration between UMBC and the Maryland Department of Disabilities. SUCCESS is the first four year college experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities in the state of Maryland. The primary goals of of the SUCCESS program are to improve employability, and develop skills in independent living, critical thinking, and problem solving. Additionally, SUCCESS aims to enmesh the students into college culture through a regular class schedule, attendance of college events, and other social and recreational activities. Students are also encouraged to reflect on their journey through their college experience through journaling and photography, which is where my involvement began.

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The more specific goal of my involvement in the SUCCESS program is to act as a peer to the students. I value my title as “peer”, as it allows me to make special connections with the intellectually disabled students, and create a sense that we are here to share this college experience together. This breeds positivity and a sense of belonging for the students, which makes the challenge of completing the different courses fun and more like a “normal” college experience. As a SUCCESS peer, I take the photography class with the students and help them work through the instructions on their own in order to develop skills and work through frustration. I work directly with one or two students each class to complete the day’s assignment successfully, and to have fun! The photography class teaches the students techniques in both film and digital photography, lighting, computer skills such as uploading and saving photos, email etiquette, photoshop skills, and more. This class has a specific focus on self-image. Self-image is the mental picture of oneself that depicts details that are observed by others, such as general appearance, but also aspects that have been learned through personal experience or through the internalization of judgements of others. Having gone through life being “different” due to their intellectual disability, cultivating a positive self-image is very important for these students. Interestingly, it can be argued that the college experience is critical in the development of self-image for anyone, despite intellectual ability. With this in mind, reflection through photography and journaling is encouraged throughout the program in order to develop a positive sense of self.

As a psychology major, I have learned a great deal about intellectual disability and development of self-image. The SUCCESS program’s incorporation of reflection on self-image intrigued me, as living with an intellectual disability likely has a drastic impact on the development of a positive self-concept.

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This service learning project addresses the “problem” of resources and experiences available for young adults with intellectual disabilities that help them transition into more independent living, cultivate positive self-image, and share experiences of and with individuals without intellectual disabilities. Considering that the SUCCESS program is the first of it’s kind in the state of Maryland, this project is essential to the development of similar programs across the United States.

In order for this project to be successful (no pun intended), many UMBC students are needed as peers for all of the classes in the SUCCESS students’ schedules. This peer system is essential to the program, as it provides the connections and support necessary for completion, and adds to the general enjoyment for students, peers, and teachers alike. UMBC students can volunteer to be a peer in the classroom, a lunch buddy, or a tutor. UMBC students may also receive a notation on their transcript for their participation in the program. Teachers are also necessary to instruct the classes taken by the SUCCESS students. As this program grows and produces students that are confident and ready to live more independently, more people will become involved in the program and lead to the development of similar programs across the country.

My goal for this blog is to encourage each and every one of you to dedicate at least one semester to the SUCCESS program, and I promise you will want to return. Spending the last several Fridays with the first year students is surely an experience I will not forget. From my first day, I bonded with one student specifically, and I have watched her come out of her shell as the semester has progressed. Seeing the amount of pride these students have for their school and watching them grow has been such a rewarding experience, and one that I hope more students with intellectual disabilities are able to have. Each of these students has their own unique story, their own thoughts and feelings on what their life is like, and getting to know each of them has been a great ending to my time at UMBC. As this program grows, the experiences and opportunities available for this population will grow with it, changing the way we all understand intellectual disability.

So what is your vision of self? I know mine has certainly changed after participating in the SUCCESS program, making new friends, and learning more about what life is like living with a disability. So next semester, please volunteer to spend two hours a week with these guys. I promise you won’t regret it!

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