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RISE benefits students with intellectual disabilities


Students who have intellectual disabilities now have the chance to RISE to the top at the University of Southern Miss campus.

Intellectual Disability refers to problems with general mental abilities that affect Intellectual Functioning and Adaptive Functioning and can begin in the developmental period early. It can be identified as mild, moderate, or severe, normally at the beginning or during childhood or until school age. 

Although Intellectual Disability is a life-long condition, early and ongoing intervention may improve functioning and allow the person to develop throughout their lifetime. RISE is an example of such intervention.

Reaching, Including, Supporting and Educating is what RISE to the top stands for. Jerry Alliston, the associate director of the Institute for Disability Studies and director of the RISE Program, says it is a four-year, eight-semester inclusive non-degree certificate program that incorporates academics and employment preparation.

In collaboration with the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Professional Development, the RISE program has existed as a pilot program at the University since 2015 for visiting students. 

“Up to 10 students will be enrolled each year and applications for the 2024 cohort will open on November 15,” Alliston said. “Interviews and selections will take place during the fall and spring semesters with selected students attending a college prep boot camp during the summer prior to enrollment.”

The program offers, person-centered planning, full university student experiences, inclusive classes, employment internships, service-learning opportunities, peer mentoring services, independent living skills training, pre-employment training experience, participation in student activities, participation in graduation ceremonies and much more.

To be eligible for the RISE To the Top! Potential students must complete an application including verification of an intellectual or cognitive disability. The certificate was approved earlier this year by the State Institutions for Higher Learning. And it follows a pilot program previously administered at USM, known as the Higher Education for All program, helped jointly by IDS and ISPD. It was funded through a grant from the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities.

“RISE staff along with the peer mentors supplied individualized services to each student,” Alliston said. “A major part of these services is connected the students to already existing University services and resources which includes available tutoring services.”

RISE is a new program at USM. And participating students will receive follow-up for a year after graduation to aid with employment, community and over all resources.

“Former U.N. Secretary Gen. Kofi Annan once said, ‘Education is a human right with immense power to transform,” said Alliston. “Higher education certainly transforms the lives of students enrolled in an inclusive postsecondary education program, and, at its core, this program provides new educational opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities through inclusive, individualized services making dreams a reality, including that of starting one’s career.”

Alliston also spoke highly of the effort to bring RISE into fruition.

“The RISE To the Top! program has been a collaborative effort of many dedicated staff and faculty of the University,” Alliston said. “We are so excited that the program is now fully established, and we can offer another opportunity for students with intellectual disability to attend college in Mississippi.”

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