Looking Back on a Fulfilling Career: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Getzel

When I began my career in the field of higher education and disability, my colleagues and I were involved in assisting college students with disabilities in their academic and career pursuits. During this time, I began learning about providing these same opportunities for individuals with intellectual disability. We had already established a framework at VCU (Getzel, Briel & Kregel, 2000) incorporating academic support strategies and career exploration opportunities including paid employment. We believed this framework could work for students with intellectual disability without changing any of its essential components. We knew that college was an important pathway to meaningful employment for any college student with a disability, including students with intellectual disability. I believed it was imperative to continue to build and expand these opportunities, especially after reading an article (Siperstein, Parker & Drascher, 2013) on the employment of individuals with intellectual disability. The article concluded that if new approaches were not implemented to ensure meaningful employment for individuals with ID, their employment outlook would be bleak. I felt this was a call to action and that the IPSE movement was one of these new pathways we needed to pursue.

We believed that in addition to academics, it was critical that all college students had numerous employment opportunities to build their careers. This philosophy did not change when we established ACE-IT in College, as a Transition and Postsecondary Education Program for Students with Intellectual Disability, or TPSID, in 2010. It is heartening to see the current TPSID outcome data showing increased employment while in college and post-graduation. This is a trend that needs to continue, especially focusing on paid employment while attending college. My colleagues and I at VCU have conducted research on training and technical assistance opportunities to IPSE program staff seeking to increase paid employment on their college campus. Employer-paid work, whether on campus or in the community, is a critical component of career development for students. There is no substitute for paid employment and what students gain from these experiences. Ensuring that students with intellectual disability have the proper employment support can enable them to enter paid employment even with limited prior experience. ACE-IT in College students work in paid employment beginning in their first semester at VCU and continue to be employed throughout the program. In conjunction with paid employment, other career-related experiences can be incorporated, for example, informational interviewing or job exploration. These need to be short-term activities for students to continue exploring their interest areas while employed, helping them to determine their career path.

It has been one of my greatest joys to see our ACE-IT graduates enter their chosen career. Our goal has always been to prepare students with ID to envision their career path. One example that illustrates this is a student who entered ACE-IT with a career goal of working with children. She took early childhood courses and held a paid part-time position at the university’s child development center. During her final year at VCU, she expressed an interest in exploring working in an office setting. She obtained a paid position and after the semester ended, she decided to continue pursuing a career in childcare. Her first position after graduating was working as a nanny, followed by employment at a daycare center. She didn’t feel that the center where she was working was the right fit for her, so she applied for a job in a Head Start program. While employed at Head Start, she worked on earning her Child Development Associate Certification. Her family wrote to say this would never have happened without her experience at VCU’s ACE-IT program. We are so proud of this student, and all the students we have worked with throughout the years who graduate and move into positions that align with their interests and goals.

Seeing college students with intellectual disability gain the knowledge and confidence to pursue their goals makes the challenges we face implementing IPSE programs worthwhile! We know there are funding and staffing issues, but we also know that our work has and will continue to have an impact not only on students who attend IPSE programs, but the community at large. I am proud to have been part of an amazing network of colleagues working to increase access to higher education for all individuals who seek to advance their knowledge and skills. I look forward to seeing all the advances in our field that will further break down barriers to higher education and employment for students with intellectual disability.


Getzel, E.E., Briel, L.W., & Kregel, J. (2000). Comprehensive career planning: The VCU career connections program. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 14, 41-49.

Siperstein, G.N., Parker, R.C., & Drascher, M. (2013). National snapshot of adults with intellectual disabilities in the labor force. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 39, 157-165.

About the post author: Elizabeth Evans Getzel recently retired, and as part of her responsibilities served as director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s ACE-IT in College program for ten years (2010-2020). For further information on our research study and other resources developed through our IPSE work, please contact the current ACE-IT director Jaclyn Camden at jlcamden2@vcu.edu. Pictured here are Elizabeth and Jaclyn.