In the News

As a finance assistant in Virginia Commonwealth University's Division of Student Affairs, A'Shauntae Nious provides clerical and administrative assistance three days a week in the Finance Service Office that provides business services to a number of departments that support VCU students.

"Overall, my experience with ACE-IT has definitely helped me tremendously with getting ready for the world of work. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

-Teddy Robbins, an ACE-IT graduate who works at VCU

"I love my job," Nious said, saying it gives her the freedom to learn and enhance her skills, be a valued team member, and help support VCU students and the university.

Nious graduated in 2019 from ACE-IT in College, an inclusive learning and training program at VCU for transition-age adults with intellectual disabilities. With individualized support, ACE-IT students participate in employment opportunities, college classes and campus activities. Part of the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center in the School of Education, ACE-IT's goal is to prepare the students to pursue fulfilling careers in their fields of interest.

Nious is one of three ACE-IT graduates currently working at VCU.

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Elizabeth Evans Getzel, director of the VCU RRTC on Employment of Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities and ACE-IT in College, will receive the 2021 Institute of Higher Education Leadership Award for her outstanding work to further inclusive higher education opportunities. She will be recognized on Nov. 8 at the State of the Art Conference on Inclusive Postsecondary Education and Individuals with Intellectual Disability.

The annual award is given to an administrator, program director, faculty or staff member within an institution of higher education who epitomizes leadership in the postsecondary education field. Getzel has extensive experience directing and conducting research and demonstration projects on supported education for college students with disabilities; transition of youth with disabilities to postsecondary education or employment; collaborative career planning for college students with disabilities; and postsecondary education supports for veterans with disabilities.

Getzel also serves on several journal review boards as a member or reviewer, and has published widely on transition, career development, postsecondary education and employment. She is co-editor of the book "Going to College: Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities.""

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When he joined VCU's ACE-IT in College program two years ago, Isaiah Young wasn't quite sure what kind of career he wanted to pursue. He had many interests, so he decided to take advantage of the opportunity that his inclusive college experience for students with intellectual disabilities provided through academic coursework and multiple employment experiences.

"Because of ACE-IT, I have the skills I need to be independent in the real world."

-Isaiah Young, ACE-IT graduate

With the help of an ACE-IT job coach, Young landed campus jobs his first year, each lasting one semester, first with Raising Cane's on West Grace Street, and then with VCU Rec Sports' outdoor rental center.

His second year, Young started working as a customer service analyst with VCU's Office of Procurement Services. That was followed by a final employment experience: an internship in the audit department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, working on a records management project. In that role, he inspired his co-workers with his hard work and determination, and he adapted well to a remote work environment. Logan Davis, Young's supervisor at the Fed, was impressed.

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Janai Santiago's dream job is working as an assistant teacher at a preschool or elementary school. Her time at Virginia Commonwealth University's ACE-IT in College program has given her the experience she'll need to make that dream a reality.

"My favorite time spent at VCU is being a part of the VCU ACE-IT in College program and being with my peers, taking fun classes and hanging out on campus with all my new friends, meeting new people and having awesome professors."

-Janai Santiago, ACE-IT graduate

"[Teaching] is my heart," she said. "I would love to be able to impact children's lives."

ACE-IT in College is an inclusive college program for students with intellectual disabilities. It provides individualized support, allowing students to participate in employment, college classes and campus activities, and helps prepare them to pursue their self-determined futures.

Through ACE-IT, Santiago took VCU courses such as Introduction to Teaching, Human Development, History of the Motion Picture, a dance and choreography course called Improvisation and more. It also facilitated campus employment at VCU's Child Development Center and VCU's Office of Continuing and Professional Education, as well as an internship at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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Troy Carter, a 20-year-old from Henrico County with an intellectual disability, was told in high school that attending college was likely out of the question, and that his future career options would be limited.

"I learned just to be myself and talk to people. I learned job skills and how to be independent and do things different, lead a normal life."

-Troy Carter, ACE-IT graduate

But Carter knew he wanted more out of life. He applied to Virginia Commonwealth University's ACE-IT in College program for students with intellectual disabilities. In ACE-IT, Carter and his classmates took VCU classes, worked on campus in part-time jobs and participated in internships — all with the goal of securing employment in each of their individual areas of interest.

"I always keep my eyes on the prize," he said.

In the spring, Carter was one of five students to graduate from ACE-IT. Shortly after graduation, he landed a job with Richmond Region Tourism.

"Troy is great and we are connecting very well," said Michelle G. Lovatt, vice president of administration for Richmond Region Tourism. "He is working for all departments of our organization and will help with all kinds of projects. He made packets...for our I Am Tourism ambassador program and he started an inventory project in our visitor center."

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Kathryn Anderson sums up her disability this way:

"I can learn what a normal person can learn. It just takes me a little bit longer to learn it."

"I can learn what a normal person can learn. It just takes me a little bit longer to learn it."

-Kathryn Anderson, ACE-IT graduate

In December, Anderson reached a milestone not just for her own education but also for the way in which Virginia Commonwealth University provides academic access to students with intellectual disabilities.

Anderson, 24, and Eddie Lee Lewis, 21, became the first two students to complete a 30-month, five-semester certificate program through VCU's School of Education called ACE-IT in College.

VCU is one of 27 universities, and the only one in Virginia, awarded a U.S. Department of Education grant in 2010 to explore postsecondary education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.

Through the five-year, $2 million demonstration grant, students who in the past might have been steered to segregated programs instead attend classes with other VCU students.

Some of Anderson's classmates knew she had a disability, she said. "Some of them didn't know. It really didn't make a big difference for those who did know. They treated me the same."

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