Program helps students transition to college

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It’s a small program in terms of size, but it’s a huge program when measuring the transformational impact it has on students. The Arc Jacksonville On Campus Transition Program (OCT) is considered one of the top postsecondary transition programs in the nation.

That rank of distinction will only be enhanced by a new endowment created to make scholarships available to those who might be unable to afford the program’s tuition.

The OCT program is a unique partnership between UNF and The Arc Jacksonville to provide a both a college experience to and innovative transition services to students with intellectual disabilities.

Since beginning in 2006, a steering committee has guided the program from its infancy to the point where today it ranks among the top 1 to 2 percent of such programs in the country.

Debbie Johnson, a UNF alum, Arc board member and a donor to the endowment, is one of the dedicated volunteers behind the program. She has watched the program grow to the point where 28 students are involved this fall. UNF provides the space for the program, as well as free access to courses students audit and the opportunity to participate in campus activities. The administrative staff is employed by The Arc Jacksonville, which collects a small tuition charge to cover the cost of providing transition services to students.

Johnson said the endowment was created with the idea of maximizing diversity and to make sure no one eligible for the program was turned away because of a lack of finances. The presence of volunteer student mentors makes the program particularly effective, she said.

“We have academic and social mentors who are available to create a fuller experience for the students,” Johnson said. “It’s been incredible, not only to see how our students benefit, but how our mentors are transformed by the experience.”

Dr. Cyrstal Makowski, OCT program director, said the endowment will be of tremendous assistance as the program continues to mature. The OCT program is fully integrated, meaning it provides a complete college experience through not only in the classroom, but also campus activities.

“We want to reach as many students as possible, and this scholarship will help us achieve that dream,” she said.

Makowski said the OCT program at UNF is being used as a model that is being replicated at other universities throughout Florida. The endowment helps assure that success will continue well into the future, she noted.

Cameron Mack, an OCT student who recently spoke at the recent College of Education dedication ceremony, summed up his experience with the program as a completely transformational life experience.

“I’ve learned so much in the two years I have been here at UNF,” Mack said during his speech. “I have learned how to be independent, how to keep up with my class schedule, how to be more mature, how to solve everyday problems and at this very moment, I am learning to overcome my fear of public speaking! Right now, I’m enjoying being a college student. I’m doing what everyone else is doing. I am finding my identity. I am making friends, and I am loving every moment of it.”