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MU PAWS Program follows in UMSL’s footsteps

An infographic of the state of Missouri and its post-secondary transition programs

This fall, MU is launching a program to help with higher education access for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to its director.

Preparing Adults for Work and Society is a residential program for students with intellectual disabilities. Maggie Center, a certified trauma-informed educator, was hired by the MU College of Education and Human Development to direct the program.

“I’ve been a part of this program for about seven months now, and [progress] has been accelerated now that we actually have a director in place,” Center said. "Before I joined, it was more of an idea.”

Although the outbreak of COVID-19 slowed efforts to bring a program like this to MU, Center is ready to bring PAWS to fruition. It will be the fifth post-secondary transition program in Missouri.

“We’re aware that there is a tremendous need for the disability community to have access to higher education and inclusive programming,” Center said.

The coordinators looked to the University of Missouri-St. Louis Succeed program, which began in 2013, as a close neighbor and model for the upcoming program. Center said PAWS aims to emulate the complexity of courses Succeed provides.

April Regester is the Educator Preparation and Leadership Department chair and an associate professor of inclusive education at UMSL.

“People with intellectual disabilities have very few options and choices,” Regester said. “If they want to go to a university that offers specific programming and a certain content area, they are more limited because they might not have a program like ours.”

Center and Regester recognize there are limited resources for people with intellectual disabilities, so programs like PAWS and Succeed are similar in mission.

“We want [PAWS] to be a representation of what life is at Mizzou, and so we want it to actually live and breathe in the way that Mizzou functions,” Center said.

The program's goal is to provide students with disabilities access to specialized courses and immerse them in a traditional college experience.

“Our students will live on campus, take skills classes, take some Mizzou course catalog classes, and build skills around job-development, independent living, social and community building, and leave with a certificate after two years,” Center said.

The inaugural class at PAWS is expected to admit four students in the fall semester of 2023.

“We want to make sure that we have things right as we grow, and [the program] will grow gradually,” Center said. “There has been a ton of support from the community to be able to make that happen and we are being really intentional about starting small.”

Potential students must submit their applications by March 1 and will be interviewed on campus for consideration to the program.