Ashtyn Asay, Daily Herald

Paige Endicott sits in the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism at Utah Valley University on Thursday, July 28, 2022.

Paige Endicott always dreamed of attending college. But because of an intellectual disability, she wasn’t sure what her future would hold.

“My older siblings were going to go to college, and to tell you the truth I didn’t think I’d ever go to college,” she said. “People with disabilities feel like they can’t go to college.”

Endicott was attending the Alpine Transition and Education Center when her mother received an email about a new program starting at Utah Valley University. Wolverines Elevated is a three-year certificate program for young adults with intellectual disabilities at UVU.

The program is a TPSID, or Transition & Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, program and is funded by the United States Department of Education. In addition to their certificate coursework, students in the program complete specialized coursework focused on self-determination, independent living and career development.

Endicott always loved working with children and is now entering her second year in the program where she was been working hard to earn a certificate to become a preschool teacher’s aide.

“I’ve always just loved (kids). … I feel like I’m following my dream and that I’m blessing more people’s lives. That’s just always what I’ve wanted to do,” Endicott said. “I just always like to keep myself busy and to get a good education to help children in the future.”

While a typical day for Endicott includes classes, homework and even more homework, she doesn’t shy away from the challenge. Rather, she embraces college life.

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“It’s been good and fun, the best,” she said.

For Endicott, Wolverines Elevated hasn’t just furthered her academic education, it’s helped her grow as a person.

“It made me feel like I was normal because at my other school I didn’t feel as normal as I wanted to,” she said. “I’ve learned that I can do harder things than I did before. A lot of people have encouraged me to become better. It’s taught me how to be a leader, and I’ll be teaching children how to be a leader.”

Morgan Jacobs, Wolverine’s Elevated program director, wants people to know that students in the program take the same classes as any other UVU student.

“We have really high expectations here, it’s a college campus, we don’t modify curriculum,” she said. “And all our students have risen and surpassed the expectations that are in place for all students at the university.”

Wolverines Elevated offers students extra support to help complete their coursework and to engage in the more social aspects of college life. Each student receives up to 15 hours of peer mentoring support from other UVU students and utilizes the on-campus support already offered for students with disabilities.

“We want our students to have a rich network of support when they graduate and leave college,” Jacobs said. “So it’s not just that they’re existing within our space but they have a whole bunch of folks who are in their corner.”

Jacobs believes that Wolverines Elevated isn’t just helping intellectually disabled students to complete their educational and career goals, but also changing the conversation surrounding how differently-abled individuals can contribute to the workforce.

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“I think the impact isn’t just for our students, it’s also getting to witness other students at the university, professors and staff, for them to see our students who belong here in college, and see how capable our students are,” Jacobs said. “That impact will change the workforce, I think it will change people’s perception of what folks with disabilities can and will achieve.”

More information on Wolverines Elevated can be found at https://uvu.edu/wolverineselevated/.

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