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MNE includes students with disabilities in graduation

Monday, May 6, 2019 - 2:15pm

Around the nation, college students are petitioning universities to include their disabled peers in graduation ceremonies.

There’s no controversy, however, at Mercyhurst North East, where three students with autism who are receiving certificates from the OASIS program will walk at graduation beside the students who have embraced them throughout the past two years.

Traditionally, attending graduation has been reserved for those who get degrees. Students who participate in the OASIS program typically receive certificates rather than degrees – which then excludes them from graduation.

But administrators at Mercyhurst agree that graduation is a rite of passage for everyone. Students in the certificate programs have been a part of the campus, making friends from day one, so it only makes sense for them to be a part of this moment, too, said Katie Huba, director of the OASIS program.

This year, three Erie-area students will participate in the MNE graduation on Saturday, May 11, at 3 p.m. in Ligouri Fieldhouse:

  • Sean McElhenny will receive a certificate in business and computer technology. One of the most academically successfully students in program, Sean often scored higher than other computer technology majors. He is planning to work this summer and then return to Mercyhurst North East for an associate’s degree.
  • Natalie Spiker will receive a certificate in Hospitality. After graduation she will complete an internship at a local hotel.
  • Jeremy Burge will receive a certificate in business and history. After graduation, he will work with a mentor to continue his job search.

And we’re likely to see the numbers at graduation growing. More and more students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are entering post-secondary education programs to better enable themselves for employment.

According to Huba, 85 percent of students who’ve successfully completed the OASIS program are employed within the community or attending post-secondary education.

“By participating in the program students show better communication skills, social skills and self-advocacy skills,” she said.

OASIS is a one-year to two-year program that gives adults (18+) with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities the opportunity to earn a proficiency-based certificate in a college setting. Students may choose between a one-year employment readiness program or two-year independent-living readiness program; with a focus of liberal arts, early childhood, business, culinary arts, or hospitality studies.