Think College: The Year in Review

2021. It was a(nother) year filled with challenges--and achievements. Let’s take a look at what went on Inside Think College….

We grew our staff.
Dr. Kathy Becht joined us as Technical Assistance and Training Coordinator in February and stepped right into the job! Sheila Johnson came aboard in March as a Knowledge Translation Associate (translation: she does a lot of amazing dissemination work!). Dr. Belkis Choiseul-Praslin joined us in August as a Research Associate, contributing to the outstanding work of our research team.

We were awarded a new grant.
That’s right! If you hadn’t heard, Think College and partners were awarded a three-year grant in October from the US Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education to expand our work raising awareness of postsecondary options and disseminating research and best practices on inclusive postsecondary education. Stay tuned for more from the Think College Inclusive Higher Education Network.

We provided technical assistance to hundreds of people.
In addition to bringing Kathy on board to lead our Technical Assistance team, we hired three new consultants. We also held many affinity group meetings on a variety of topics, added a new affinity group on inclusive campus life and invited new leadership to two others. The TA team responded to well over 600 requests through our Help Desk and conducted 28 data-driven technical assistance calls with the TPSIDs. PHEW!

We did a LOT of outreach.

  • We started this blog in January, and here we are with our 24th post! We think of it as a way to share the goings-on at Think College and in the world of inclusive higher education with you, and hope you enjoy reading them as much as we like writing them!
  • We produced the Report on Model Accreditation Standards for Higher Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disability, which describes the evolution of the Accreditation Standards, how public comment shaped them, and it includes the revised standards. The goal is that these standards will create authentic and high-quality higher education opportunities for students with ID. There was the Annual report for the 2015-2020 cohort of TPSIDs, plus about 25 other publications.
  • We posted nearly 900 times on Twitter and Facebook!
  • There were webinars and promotional videos and website articles—and we launched an updated website! Again, phew.

The Research team was able to do even more with the addition of Belkis to the team. They designed and launched a new onboarding process for TPSID data entry staff, updated and launched the data collection system for a new cohort of TPSIDs in only 2.5 months, held monthly drop-in data entry webinars and a credential data info session, and held an interactive data session at the Project Director Meeting. (Which was completely virtual. Another thing our team managed this year!)

The leadership team is to be commended for a long list of accomplishments... like, um, keeping us focused and motivated! In their own rights, they were able to celebrate some professional accomplishments, as well. Meg Grigal co-authored five journal articles this year, published in peer-reviewed journals, on the field of inclusive higher education, characteristics of current programs, college-based transition services, faculty perspectives, and effective partnerships between IHEs and VR. Debra Hart testified before Massachusetts State Legislature about the evidence-based benefits of inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disability—and the bill passed! Last, but not least, Cate Weir received the George Jesien National Leadership Award at the 2021 State of the Art conference. She was extremely grateful to receive this award—and we are grateful to have her on our team!

We did all of this and more, in the face of some great adversity.

The world continued to face the unimaginable as COVID cases ebbed and flowed, and vaccines became available. Racial injustice and social unrest continued to make headlines. People with disabilities are still fighting  for equity and respect in many sectors. Our team also experienced some personal challenges: we cared for ailing parents. We lost parents. We worked hard from home, desperately missing seeing our colleagues at professional conferences and at meetings on campus. We moved unexpectedly, and helped others move, as well.

But there were also notable personal celebrations as well….

We have so many and we are grateful. Cate celebrated her mom’s 100th birthday, Meg sent her daughter off to college, I went to the beach, Kathy got a new dog, and Clare visited family overseas. We are most grateful for the opportunity to work daily with and on behalf of some positively fantastic people, to improve opportunities for students with intellectual disability to go to college and pursue career goals. What a joy it is to see the growth in college options, to watch the videos of students opening college acceptance letters, to work with colleges and universities to establish brand new programs. Sheila said it so well:

Working with students in the Emerging Advocates group and those who participated in the Student Spotlight interviews has been inspiring. Despite the challenges we have all faced this year, the students have been optimistic. They are excited and ready to take on the world. Their hard work and determination keep us going when we get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks and many meetings. And their engagement reminds us that we do valuable work. We might not be changing the world, but we are supporting students as they do.

A lot of people are glad to see 2021 draw to a close. I suppose I am, too, but I am hoping that the good things that happened this year are just a hint at what will come in 2022.

Peace, health, and happiness to all of you this holiday season.

About the post author: Rebecca Lazo, also known as Becky to many of her peers, is the Knowledge Translation Manager for Think College. Knowledge Translation is just another way of saying dissemination or marketing or communication. She really enjoys the crazy magic of social media trends, as well as constantly learning about disability, advocacy, and inclusive higher education. 



National Coordinating Center