Ferris is now the first public university in Michigan to host Ready for Life, a nonprofit giving students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to attend universities.
Ferris is known for its commitment to diversity and education for everyone. This symbolizes Ferris’ next progressive step, welcoming students to a curriculum that aids in preparing them for life on their own as well as six college credits a semester outside of their Ready for Life curriculum.
Cole Schepers, Xavier Bailey, Kirk Daum and Evan Bomay are four of the expected eight students that will be enrolled in this program in the Fall of 2021. Three of the four future Bulldogs, excluding Bomay, who was absent from their orientation, saw their classroom and their living quarters in North Hall, for the first time on Tuesday, March 23. Their eyes filled with excitement as they saw the multiple games and lounging areas on the main floor of North Hall.
Family members of the future students were also shocked at the university’s newest hall, admitting times had changed since they attended college. A murmur from the crowd stated, “I feel like I’m in a five-star hotel.”
Following a brief walk-through of North Hall, the orientation group went to their future classroom located on the first floor of the Arts and Science Commons in room 1015. There the group was greeted by Deedee Stakley, director of secondary school partnerships, Emily Perton, director of Ready for Life, and their instructor, Sandy Baker, a former special education teacher who also has a child with down syndrome.
The future students walked the room admiring the seating arrangements and made small talk with their instructor as family members, staff and future students were interviewed for the Miranda Show. In this room, students will meet regularly before departing to take their other college courses.
“It’s perfect for us because it’s going to allow Kirk to get the college atmosphere and way of life,” Erich Daum, father of Kirk Daum, said. “He watched his brother go away to college and this is his chance.”
This opportunity gives Kirk a chance to get this college experience without being far from home since the Daum family is part of the Big Rapids community. Kirk is an alumnus of Big Rapids High School.
His father’s hopes for him are shared among all parents whose children are enrolling in the university. The hope is for them to become as independent as possible and be active and productive members of the community.
What these students get out of the program is entirely up to the skillsets they bring to the table according to Stakley. They could earn certificates in skillsets or achieve a bachelor’s degree, but the takeaway is for them to experience college life, gain living skills and educate themselves along the way.
One parent, Sarah Bailey, mother of Xavier, held back tears as she expressed that she hopes her son gains many opportunities through Ready for Life, even if it means working hard for them.
“It’s a win-win,” Baker states in reference to the future students as well as the students actively apart of the university. This is due to the fact that students will now get to share the campus with these new students, giving them opportunities to work alongside them and even aid in their education. Ready for Life is in search of volunteers to help these new students in the classroom with college-level courses that they are enrolled in as well as socially, teaching them the way of college life.
“People with disabilities need to be integrated, fully integrated,” Baker said. According to her Ferris has done this with open arms, putting their classroom precisely next to the disability’s office. Her hope is that students will be willing to aid in these future students’ education in the coming years, acting as mentors. Because Ready for Life believes people with disabilities should be fully integrated, they plan to work alongside university events, involving themselves, rather than hosting events of their own.
Perton stated a large setback is explaining to the university what inclusion means and the difference between inclusion and belonging. Integrating into the university giving these future students equity while being apart of the Ferris community, is how they plan to execute it.
Baker spoke of her son, Eric Baker, stating that after graduating high school, he once asked her where the high school quarterback, a friend of his, was currently. She told him he, like many high school students, went away to college. His response, something Sandy stated she would never forget, “I want to go.” Unfortunately for Eric, he is outside of the age qualifications of 18 to 26 for the Ready for Life program.
Ready for life was inspired by students according to Perton, launching out of Christian Learning Center, when students stopped asking the question, “can I go to college,” and started asking “where am I going to college?”
“Everyone deserves an education, Perton said, “Diversity goes deeper than skin color and deeper than ethnicity, it includes disabilities. There is a huge push to increase diversity on every college campus, that should include disabilities.”
For more information involving mentorship, or the Ready for Life organization, contact Sandy Baker at email@example.com or visit the Ready for Life website.