For some college students, finding passions and extracurricular activities to join on the campus takes months or years. But for the inaugural class of TerpsEXCEED, finding things to do in college seemed like second nature.
TerpsEXCEED began last fall as an inclusive college program designed for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The two students in the program’s inaugural class, Hari Kannan and Zach McKay, are approaching the end of their first school year at this university.
Through TerpsEXCEED, students attend this university for two years, taking courses in subjects they are interested in to receive a certificate from the Office of Extended Studies. Participating students can have a full-time college experience, including going to classes and living in dorms.
Kannan, 20, who has Down syndrome, said his first year in the program was “beyond amazing.”
He managed a club soccer team, had an internship at the University Health Center, and went to fitness classes at Eppley Recreation Center.
Kannan will also be a part of the 2022 class of Think College Policy Advocates, a group of students and educators who meet with politicians on Capitol Hill to advocate for inclusive postsecondary education.
McKay, 26, who has autism and an intellectual disability, is passionate about singing and dancing. This year, he performed in the ensemble in a production of Heathers put on by student musical theater group 32 Bars. He also learned to sing in old German and Latin in the university’s men’s chorus.
“I do have fun with that,” McKay said.
McKay also works three days a week at Eppley and the public health building, cleaning and doing laundry, and has honed his workout routine. He also went to several football and basketball games, participating in a halftime game, getting on the jumbotron and helping unfurl the Maryland flag over the student section.
Without a program like TerpsEXCEED, Kannan and McKay may not have been able to experience college, as higher education opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities and autism can be hard to find, according to TerpsEXCEED director Amy D’Agati.
And though they are both highly engaged in extracurricular activities, internships and jobs, the two still make time for homework and hanging out with friends.
“It’s like any other people in college, we hang out, we have a great time, we laugh, talk,” Kannan said.
Students in the TerpsEXCEED program work with students in the disability studies minor who take a peer mentor class.
D’Agati said she hopes to get the peer mentor class added as a general education class so more students have the opportunity to take it.
In the fall, four new students from Maryland will be joining the program, according to TerpsEXCEED director D’Agati. She said 23 students applied to the program.
“We’re going to try to expand staff a little bit, depending on some funding that we can get,” D’Agati said. “And hope we have a big crew of mentors coming in.”
A $100,000 grant from the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council that helped fund the program will end on Sept. 30, so D’Agati said program leaders are looking to get additional funding. Part of the cost will be funded by the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration, she said.
More changes are happening for McKay and Kannan next school year when they will be seniors. McKay, who currently commutes to school, will be living on the campus.
“I feel excited,” McKay said, to “make new friends … live in the dorm and play video games.” Next semester, he’s signed up to take classes in communications, hip-hop dance and musical theater.
As a senior, Kannan said he is looking forward to moving into a new residence hall and meeting the new members. He also looks forward to watching TerspEXCEED grow.
“I feel the program is expanding more,” Kannan said. “We’re bringing in a lot of people from across the state of Maryland.”