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Students with disabilities EXCEL with Georgia Tech program


Similar to all students who graduate high school, the state of Georgia also tracks the graduation rate of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and says approximately 1,200 graduate from high schools each year across the state.

These students often find their pursuit of continued high-quality inclusive higher learning limited, however, a program at Georgia Tech has opened up the possibilities for this group to gain an authentic college education and take control of their future. 

The Expanding Career, Education and Leadership (EXCEL) program at Georgia Tech, is part of a growing national movement to create programs that serve students with mild disabilities who might otherwise not have college on their radars.

EXCEL offers a four-year program for students with mild intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) leading to two separate certificates. Director Ken Surdin, who joined Tech to launch the initiative in 2014 said, These are students with intellectual or developmental disabilities who would not qualify for a degree or associate program at other colleges or universities. Many are coming from special ed programs, and if they could get a degree or associate’s, they wouldn’t qualify for EXCEL.” 

EXCEL participants are invited to complete a four-year program, but they have the option to leave with a certificate after two. Coursework for EXCEL centers around academic enrichment, social fluency, social growth, leadership and career exploration.“It’s a work-based program, so students take a career class the first semester and then do internships,” said Surdin. “By the time they graduate, they’ll have had a minimum of seven internships.” 

Surdin said, “We work with students to gain additional certifications in areas they’re interested in. We had one student who wanted to work in a warehouse, so we helped him get certified in forklifts, and he got a job with Lufthansa at the airport. We’ve also helped students get certified in supply chain logistics, customer service and education.

To find a broad range of internship opportunities for the students, the EXCEL staff works with more than 100 employers. They teach participants skills around resume building and job interviewing. Participants take courses from Tech’s catalog that have been modified to their abilities and they attend those classes alongside degree-seeking students.

In describing the program Surdin said, “They’re not in competition with degree-seeking students, but their presence enriches the overall environment and allows our students access to all kinds of classes. We also have a mentorship program of about 100 degree-seeking students who volunteer and are paid to coach our students.” 

The program began with a small cohort of eight. Currently, a total of 32 students are enrolled, and 26 have successfully completed the requirements to earn certifications through Tech’s professional education division.

If you want to support the opportunity for students with I/DD to take control of their future with an authentic college experience through EXCL, please visit: https://excel.gatech.edu/giving/how-to-give


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