UVU Launches Wolverines Elevated

A new program at Utah Valley University aims to help students with intellectual disabilities lead fulfilled and independent lives.

In October 2020, Utah Valley University (UVU) secured a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a postsecondary education program for Utahns with intellectual disabilities. The program, called Wolverines Elevated, will be housed in UVU’s Melissa Nellesen Center for Autism. It is set to begin in summer 2021 and have an inaugural cohort of five to seven students.  

Until now, there has been no clear pathway for individuals with Intellectual Disabilities to transition from high school to higher education at UVU. But that did not stop students like Becca Winegar, who enrolled in UVU after graduating Timpview High School when it was still Utah Valley State College (UVSC).

“Attending college was life-changing,” said Winegar. “One of my theater professors at UVU took me under his wing. I blossomed.”

While at UVSC, Winegar took classes in stage makeup, costumes, set design, and served as the assistant director in some of the school’s productions. In the 1999-2000 school year, Winegar received the “Wolverines Achievement of the Year for Overcoming Obstacles.” Since leaving, she has continued to pursue her love by directing many more productions. 

“Having been born with Down syndrome does not mean a person is incapable of learning. We are lifelong learners, just like everyone else.”
-Becca Winnegar

Jane Carlson, PhD, director of the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism at UVU, will head Wolverines Elevated. She believes UVU will give much-needed opportunities to students like Becca. National data show less than 20 percent of young adults with intellectual disabilities in the U.S. are involved in postsecondary education after leaving high school. In Utah, only five percent of students with intellectual disabilities enroll in a two-year or four-year college within one year of exiting high school.

“It is a challenge for those with intellectual disabilities to advance and find employment because there are so few opportunities to achieve a meaningful credential,” said Carlson. “With this program, we can assist individuals in achieving their adult goals in an inclusive environment that will lead to an industry-recognized credential.”

The promise of Wolverines Elevated is backed by the success of Aggies Elevated, a similar initiative which launched at Utah State University in 2014. In November 2020, 87.5 percent (21 out of 24) of recent Aggies Elevated graduates were employed, despite the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

Wolverines Elevated is designed as a three-year program with courses to help students explore career paths, participate in college life, and lead independent lives. At capacity, 30 students will be enrolled.

“It will also allow UVU to build on its value of providing exceptional care and education to students and community members,” said Carlson.

Winegar is a champion of inclusion and is excited about the impact Wolverines Elevated will have on people with intellectual disabilities and the community as a whole. “I want to do what I can to raise the awareness about the benefits of people with different abilities attending a university,” she said. “Having been born with Down syndrome does not mean a person is incapable of learning. We are lifelong learners, just like everyone else.”

You can make a difference by supporting Utah Valley University’s mission to expand the availability of high-quality transition and post-secondary education programs in Utah for students with intellectual disabilities. Thank you for joining us in building a community of belonging.  For more information, contact Alex Philips, director of major gifts for the UVU School of Education at 801-863-6576 or Alex.Phillips@uvu.edu.

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