Since 2012, the Postsecondary Access and Training in Human Services (PATHS) program has graduated 59 students, 84% of which graduated with jobs in their respective fields.
The PATHS program, offered at the Center on Disability and Development, prepares graduates for two career paths. One is to be Direct Support Professionals, serving people with disabilities and the elderly to live in their homes, with their families or in other community settings. The Child Care Professional track prepares students to work with children ages 0-5 in a child care program.
The PATHS program’s top priority is to support individuals with disabilities in accessing post-secondary training to gain and maintain competitive employment. “Through this program, our students are given tools to advocate for themselves and live successful, independent lives,” said Mary Whirley, PATHS program coordinator. “So many individuals with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed. This program allows them to access an education and gain a career in the field of their choice.”
Students take one semester of required coursework. During the second semester, the goal is for students to be placed in a supervised, paid practicum so they learn on-the-job skills for their future career.
For Andrei Cudnik, PATHS has given him the confidence to help others with special needs. “Knowing that I can help someone makes me feel like I’m helping myself because I’m one with special needs,” says Cudnik. “Coming here has taught me that I can do whatever I feel like I can do. I don’t have to be labeled or judged, I can just be myself.”
After graduation, Cudnik plans to apply to be a teacher’s assistant while working on a book about others with special needs. “I want to tell stories about how they haven’t gotten help and how people will help them,” he said. “I also want to tell stories about people who do not have a disability and what they thought of a person with special needs.”
Whirley and her team are hoping to replicate the program at other universities, helping to ease the transition from high school to college for students with disabilities. The team is developing a “how-to” manual with guidelines to create standardization and consistency. The guidelines will support replication of the model with a focus on a career-driven program with ways to incorporate supplemental curriculum on professionalism, communication, self-advocacy, self-determination, assistive technology and life skills for those students.
The PATHS program is also in the process of applying to become a Comprehensive Transition Program. If approved, PATHS would become the first in the state to give students with intellectual disabilities access to federal financial aid.
“This is an exciting time for our program, our students and the state of Texas,” said Whirley. “We are proud of what is taking place here at Texas A&M and the opportunities for all students to have a successful, inclusive and meaningful college experience.”