Wow, How Far We Have Come!
During an Oklahoma Inclusive Postsecondary Education, or OKIPSE, Alliance leadership meeting, I broached the question: "How about I talk with IPSE leaders from Oklahoma and Texas and see if they are interested in getting together to share information sometime soon?" One of my leaders took it further and responded with “How about we host a Summit or Conference?” What? I had no experience planning and hosting an event like that. Although I had attended multiple IPSE conferences, planning and hosting was a whole different animal!
That was a little over a year ago, and we hosted our first IPSE OK/TX Summit in April 2023, to a full house of educators, professionals, family members, self-advocates, and college and university representatives. Complete with a pre-meeting with Oklahoma legislators, dual-state alliance conversations, and an awesome student panel to close out the Summit. Hosting this gathering of like-minded people was truly amazing!
What are some key components that helped build momentum around IPSE in Oklahoma?
Relationships. I often present that it takes more than a village for IPSE growth; it takes a Connected Community. A village can have lots of people in close proximity that do not know each other, but a Connected Community is where individuals know each other, understand each other’s strengths, and can call upon each other. Building key relationships with subject matter experts, agency leaders, advocacy organizations, dedicated parents, and business people helped lay the critical groundwork for IPSE growth. Building is the key word; it does not happen fast. There are crack-of-dawn coffees because that is the only time when very busy agency heads have time to meet, and late evening meetings because that is when development heads and college deans get free from other meetings. Genuinely being interested in other people and what their challenges and goals are is key to building personal investment in any new idea. If you do not know about the person you are trying to talk to, it is difficult to get them interested in your effort.
Communication. In our age of instant, virtual communication, simply talking to each other and making sure everyone understands the topic or the meeting outcome and sending out a quick recap after the conversation or meeting is good practice. So many things can go sideways just because of simple miscommunication. I constantly work on keeping good communication habits.
Start Small and Message Clearly. I am very unimpressed by my first PPT presentations and handout materials! However, those first materials and presentations were given to small groups and individuals whom I asked for feedback and implemented changes as the audiences got larger. Those small steps with individuals and small groups not only helped me refine the message but also built relationships and connections that grew the support base because their opinion mattered. I remember my first “ask” of a potential large donor: After listening to my overview of the need for an IPSE program in Oklahoma, she took out her checkbook and said, “I’m going to give you some advice: Always ask for the whole cow, because if you don’t get the whole cow, you will at least get a bigger piece of that cow. Next time, be clear about what you need because I would have written you a bigger check.” Next time we were clear. Clear messaging is a must!
Social Media, done well, helps build momentum. When we started the IPSE effort in Oklahoma, Facebook was the go-to for information sharing. Managing Facebook is not a skill I possess to this day, and I had not realized that to build momentum and expand reach, you need to get your message to people who cannot go the conferences or attend meetings. You need to reach busy parents and educators in rural areas to build support. The exact right person was at a meeting early in the IPSE effort. After the presentation, she came up to me and asked, “you don’t have a Facebook page do you?” Without waiting for me to answer, she said, “you will by tomorrow morning”. She is a professional and posts in a clear, informative manner. That component is needed to build support for a new effort.
Celebrate Success. Making a big deal out of small successes along the way helps invigorate long-time supporters and create new ones. The Summit was a great way to garner media attention and inform a large number of people all at one time about the amazing programs that are now in place in our state and beyond. A successful event like the Summit helps show others that this effort is relevant, has support, and is growing.
There is a lot yet to do, and we are just getting started in the movement to give more college options to students with intellectual disability who want to live their best life!
About the blog author: Julie Lackey is the Director of OKIPSE Alliance which is a partnership between three state agencies. Julie works to educate, advocate, assist, collaborate, and support expansion regarding Inclusive Postsecondary Education options serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Oklahoma. She is also the Founder of the non-profit LeadLearnLive. You can find her digging in the dirt or baking something delicious in her spare time!