InclusiveU’s OnCampus program welcomes SCSD students to college experience

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Matthew Falanga, a former Syracuse City School District student with an Individualized Education Plan, didn’t have a clear-cut plan for his education after graduating from a high school in the SCSD. Through the OnCampus program, Falanga ended up spending the next year living a college experience on Syracuse University’s campus.

OnCampus, a partnership between SU’s InclusiveU program and SCSD, is an initiative under InclusiveU where students from the SCSD with developmental disabilities can gain a college experience at SU. The program provides students with the opportunity to take SU courses, gain work experience and participate in social activities with other students, according to the program’s website.

SCSD students with Individualized Education Plans — which ensure a child with an identified disability attending an elementary or secondary educational school can receive specialized instruction and services — are eligible to apply for the OnCampus program.
Brianna Shults, the director of InclusiveU, said the people and activities within the program provide an immersive college experience, like that of traditional students, for OnCampus students.

“SU and SCSD collaborate by combining all of the benefits of InclusiveU with the resources from the SCSD to bring high school students with intellectual disability to college,” Shults said. “OnCampus students are a part of InclusiveU and Syracuse University.”

Falanga said he’s appreciative of the program and his personal, meaningful experiences at SU. He especially enjoys the area around the university and the dining hall’s chicken tender Thursdays and pizza Fridays, he said.

Michele Krak, an OnCampus coordinator, said the program is a fitting environment for growth as students transition into adulthood. She said OnCampus students socialize with SU students frequently and participate in activities on and off campus.

“Students are introduced to a college setting with age-appropriate peers to explore academics in a setting that allows for exploration of interests with mentored support,” Krak said. “Students 18-21 years of age have the opportunity to be actively engaged with rigorous content in a college setting and still have support from a mentor.”

InclusiveU offers a “Peer2Peer” program, which pairs non-matriculated InclusiveU students, including students from the OnCampus program, with current SU students who serve as “peer partners.” Peer partners accompany InclusiveU students to engage in activities on campus from playing games to working out at the gym to just getting lunch. InclusiveU works to emphasize the social aspects of college just like it does the academic aspects, Shults said.

“College is an opportunity to participate in not only academics but also essential social experiences and connections with other students,” said Shults. “We are not offering a special program for students, and they are fully integrated into everything here at the university. Students select their courses and the ways they want to engage with the college campus to make this an experience that is meaningful for them.”

OnCampus offers students a number of opportunities to obtain life skills and enter adulthood while being involved on campus. Shults said past students from the program have earned university recognition as Remembrance Scholars, executive board members in on-campus organizations and most recently as Unsung Heroes.

Falanga said he’s determined to make the most of his time here at SU and to experience college to the fullest.

“I want to study hard, believe in myself and make it through my own journey,” Falanga said.

Ultimately, Shults said, the program creates accessibility that might not otherwise be there for students who participate in OnCampus. As they transition into adulthood, she said they have a unique opportunity to really experience the school and community aspects of college life.

“Our goal is to give students with intellectual disabilities the same opportunity other young adults have — to experience a college campus, learn and grow — so they can be prepared for a more independent adult life,” Shults said.

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