The Power of Connectedness

“The potential for our love to create a macro impact on the world is based on the amount of love we are able to put into our micro connections. Because all of our actions hold energy, everything we do has the power to affect another person.“

-Cleo Wade

What a fun and exciting new journey this has been! Think College received funding starting October 1, 2021 to begin the Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network. We’ll call it "The Network" from here on out. Danie began work as the Project Coordinator at the beginning of January 2022 and Susanna began work as the Alliance Manager mid-February 2022. So much has happened since we came on board.

The field has grown so much since we began our career journeys in inclusive higher education (Danie in 2009 & Susanna in 2012.) When I (Susanna) did my first presentation in 2012 there were only 119 programs across the country and now there are over 300! It’s amazing to think that we’ve almost tripled in 10 years!

To us, it makes sense that we’d want to create a national network to connect everyone in a more intentional way. We’ve been connecting and collaborating together since our first gathering of the Southeast Postsecondary Education Alliance (SEPSEA) at the State of the Art Conference in 2014.

This is a reflection of the grant’s first year, but really it’s a reflection of when we started 9 and 10 months ago! There is power in numbers and in working together for the same goal! (It also helps when you have a US DOE grant to fund the work!)

Here are the top 10 things we’ve been working on since January 2022!

1. We’ve grown our team! We’ve gone from a team of two to a team of seven, with the most recent addition joining us on October 31! We also have all of the amazing cross-center collaboration with our colleagues at the National Coordinating Center and other Think College projects. 

2. Hosted two (2) Capacity Building Institutes: a strand for state and regional alliance development at the SEPSEA Conference and a planning meeting for regional alliance development across three regional alliances in the midwest, great lakes and upper midwest regions with Midwest Inclusive Post Secondary Alliance (MIPSA).

3. Expanded from two existing regional alliances to three! Welcome GLIPSEA (Great Lakes Inclusive Postsecondary Education Alliance).

4. Tripled the affinity groups supported by the Network! We went from one, the State Alliances Affinity Group, to four affinity groups facilitated by team members and partners of Think College. We introduced the Career and Technical Education Affinity Group and Community College Affinity Group this fall, and the Employment Partnerships Affinity Group will have its inaugural meeting on November 29th, 2022.

5. Susanna contacted all 50 states to offer support to statewide efforts. State contacts were also routinely updated on the What’s Happening In Your State? page.

6. We hosted our first annual partners meeting.

7. Over 40 new products and publications were developed, including content for new webpages, articles, blogs, and other resources.

8. We launched the Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network project page and, our newsletter, The Network News. Stay tuned as we’re working to expand the project section of our website throughout the fall!

9. In preparation for our upcoming public awareness campaign, we conducted nine focus groups with over 40 participants from educators to higher education professionals and family members.

10. Finally, we partnered with six experts in the field to support our scope of work. You can read more about the people and organizations we partner with on our Team Members page.

It’s been an honor to work together to begin to create this network of programs, states, and regions. Relationships and connections are at the core of what we are trying to do. There’s been so much synergy among the moving parts and excitement about moving forward and looking ahead at the bright future of our field!

About the post authors: Danie Roberts-Dahm and Susanna Miller-Raines bring fresh passion and years of experience to Think College as leaders of The Network. Since 2014, they have been collaborating to establish state and regional alliances for inclusive postsecondary education in the Southeast. Their dedication to improving opportunities and outcomes for students with intellectual disability is infectious and we look forward to what the future brings!

Inclusive Higher Education Network