Posted May 20, 2008

For Academy for Adult Learning students, not all of the learning takes place in the classroom

The first day of college for most of Temple’s incoming freshmen can be an intimidating experience.

So before his first day of class, Mitchell Gaskins consulted a higher power.

“School is hard no matter what school you’re in,” he said. “But I read the Bible and I prayed. I also had friends and family that had gone to Temple.”

Gaskins’ nerves were minimal, however, at the graduation ceremony for the Institute on Disabilities’ Academy for Adult Learning, held May 14 at the Underground in the Howard Gittis Student Center. There he confidently took the stage and thanked his family and friends for their support.

Though Gaskins was collected, the eyes of happy family members were filled to overflowing.


Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University
Mitchell Gaskin (left) and Vider Pittman celebrate receiving their certificates of completion at graduation ceremonies for the Institute on Disabilities' Academy for Adult Learning on May 14 at the Howard Gittis Student Center.

Gaskins is part of the first class of graduates from the Academy for Adult Learning. The academy began as a pilot program in 2006, said Kathy Miller, assistant director for training at the Institute on Disabilities and project manager for the academy.

The five-semester academy is financed through the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Mental Retardation Services and gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to experience college.

In addition to a five-hour weekly seminar course that focuses on career choices, resume building and transitioning from school to work, academy students take a minimum of two academic courses each semester, either in Temple’s Pan-African Studies Community Education Program (PASCEP) or other university departments, Miller said.

Because preparing for the future is a big emphasis in the program, students are also required to do a semester-long, one-day-a-week internship. Internships are based on student interest. Students are also matched with a mentor who is trained by the Institute on Disabilities. The student mentors help their mentee become a part of campus life by involving them in extracurricular activities, such as Spring Fling, said Titania Boddie, project coordinator for the academy.

For the students to get the full feeling of the Temple University experience, a few things had to be worked out for them, Miller said. Most of these things were administrative.

“We had to work out some glitches,” Miller said. “We had to figure out how they were going to get student [identification] as non-matriculating students and we had to figure out how the semester would work.”

For the people with intellectual disabilities that are involved in the program, the Academy for Adult Learning serves as a learning experience.

“I was a little nervous,” said Laura Bale, a student currently in the academy. “I had never been on a huge campus before. But after the second time, I liked it. The experience of going to college and doing school work is fun.”

It is the same for their Temple student mentors.

Natasha Williams, a senior majoring in kinesiology, had worked with children with disabilities before joining the academy. Her work with the students in the academy has been rewarding, she said.

“I’m impressed with everyone here,” Williams said. “This has been a good experience for me.”

For Tiffany Davis, a junior majoring in organizational leadership, it was a chance to see that everyone learns differently and can make great strides when given the chance.

“Every student is different,” she said. “This program challenges them and they don’t feel limited. Everyone has their own personality. It’s like a family because everyone is really close here. You don’t usually get that at a large university.”

While the Academy for Adult Learning provides these students and their mentors with a lot of opportunities, it also provides an opportunity for the parents of these students to experience something that they thought they’d never get to — a college graduation.

“When my mother opened the note that said I was graduating,” said student Charlene Hawkins, “she started to cry.”

For more information on the Academy for Adult Learning, contact Kathy Miller at 215-204-1356 or