January 2019 Update from Next Steps at Vanderbilt

By Caitlin Bernstein

My name is Caitlin Bernstein and I am an alum of the Next Steps at Vanderbilt program. I am currently working at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center as a research analyst and also at the Next Steps offices.

Some of the tasks that I do at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center are making copies, assisting with big events like trainings and conferences, and putting data in Excel spreadsheets.

Some of the tasks that I do at the Next Steps offices are helping with the Next Steps open houses, helping with the Next Steps newsletter, assisting with special events like speaking on panels and making copies.

This year Next Steps has 29 students, and as we expand to a 4-year program, we have our first year of third year juniors! This spring the students are in 41 different Vanderbilt University classes. Most of the juniors have paid internships that are off-campus, while the freshman and sophomores are mostly on-campus and un-paid. Some of the internships are Tennessee Disability Pathfinder, the Rand Post Office, Vanderbilt Recycling, the Vanderbilt Department of Human Services, Commons Munchie Mart and so many more.

Ruby’s Rainbow 2019 Scholarship Application Now Open!

Ruby’s Rainbow has opened its application for 2019 Scholarships!

This scholarship is for individuals with Down syndrome who are 18 years of age or older, and who have a desire and intent to enroll or continue enrollment in a class or program that will enhance their life through employment, independent living or life skills, or interests in any other areas.

For more information, visit Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship application page.

November meeting of the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance

The Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance (TN IHE Alliance) met in November to share program updates, to learn about postsecondary education-related research projects, and to hear more about upcoming advocacy opportunities.

Students enrolled the five inclusive higher education programs in Tennessee are well into the semester and are busy in integrated classes and internships. In Memphis, students in the TigerLIFE program are in internships with the recreational center, Holiday Inn, and the library. Externships include Marshall’s, Ronald McDonald House, and the Memphis Botanical Garden.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s FUTURE Program currently has 16 full-time and 2 part-time students. Eight new students have lead a movement on inclusion on campus outside of the classroom. Lipscomb University’s IDEAL Program reported six new internship sites including the Nashville Soccer Club, ABLE, and the TN Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Next Steps at Vanderbilt, which recently expanded to four years, has 8 students in the midst of the inaugural junior year. A focus on student driven activities including paid internships on and off campus and independent studies have been a program priority. Union EDGE shared student employment stories from Campus dining, the Union basketball team, and the safety and security department.

Research on parent perspectives, motivations of peer mentors, faculty attitudes, and family quality of life were discussed.
Reports from faculty also highlighted Masters theses being written on topics such as friendships and experiences of belonging of current students and alumni, examination of freshman orientation, and self-management strategies.

In terms of policy education and advocacy, program staff were encouraged to engage their students at TN Disability Day on the Hill (March 2019) and during the 2019 April 8-10 Federal Disability Policy Seminar in Washington.

The next TN IHE Alliance meeting will take place at Lipscomb University on February 1, 2019.

Call for Proposals Opens for SEPSEA 2019

CALL FOR PROPOSALS IS OPEN for the Southeast Postsecondary Education Alliance Conference

Submission deadline is January 15, 2019.

Help shape the SEPSEA 2019 program! SEPSEA and the REACH Program are looking for presenters who can explore innovative topics, highlight the latest trends, and discuss best practices in inclusive postsecondary education for students with intellectual and/or development disabilities (IDD).

Proposals must be submitted online at the submission link below.  Only proposals submitted using this form will be considered.

Submission link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/13TR6kWBWxklyFzDBmT2VYtR2SbkTxLF264lmhTqbhSs/viewform?edit_requested=true

For more information on SEPSEA 2019, May 16 & 17, 2019, in Charleston, SC visit https://www.sepsea.org/2019-sepsea-cbi.html

Think College 2018-19 Webinar Series Announced

There’s a brand new Think College Webinar Series, for the 2018-19 academic year. The first webinar, Universal Design for Learning Technology to Support Diverse Learners, debuts October 3, 2018.

Additional webinars announced will include a look into how the November elections will impact people with disabilities, answering FAQs about Vocational Rehabilitation, and developing partnerships for campus housing. More will be announced!


Registration for all of the webinars is FREE, and includes live participation as well as a link to the recorded webinar and transcript for use after the event.

To learn more about the series and to register for the webinars, visit the Think College event page.

August TN IHE Alliance Meeting: It’s like you were there!

Members of the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance (TN IHE Alliance) came together in August, both in-person at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and from afar via an online meeting platform (btw, all photos in this post are screenshots. What?).

Alliance members and guests shared highlights from Tennessee’s inclusive college programs, updates on related-research projects, and announcements about new financial aid opportunities for students. A few highlights from the meeting are included below.

Program Updates

University of Tennessee FUTURE students recently took part in Sport and Inclusion Week on the UT Knoxville campus. Joining the students were 17 international disability sport leaders. Paralympic executives, social entrepreneurs, and advocates. Participants were tasked with developing an action plan that explains the life challenges faced by people with disabilities in their countries and how sport can be used to address these challenges to ensure greater inclusion and accessibility. You can read more about the event HERE.


The communications internship of a Lipscomb University IDEAL student led to paid employment at the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD). Brad Bramlett compiles the Department’s electronic newsletter, composes internal communications for DIDD employees, and assists in some of the Department’s video projects. To watch a short video from DIDD on Brad’s employment journey, CLICK HERE.



Next Steps at Vanderbilt student Darko Osman organized an educational dinner event through the Vanderbilt Wond’ry called Dinner in the Dark. Vanderbilt students, faculty, and staff gathered for the unique dinner experience designed to challenge participants’ perceptions, build empathy, and break down social barriers. To read a news item on Dinner in the Dark, CLICK HERE.



Research Updates

Dr. Erik Carter (Next Steps at Vanderbilt) led updates on collaborative research activities among TN IHE Alliance members. Carter and his colleagues recently published research that looked at the motivations and expectations of 250 peer mentors attending five diverse universities that have inclusive higher education programs for students with intellectual disability. Additionally, an upcoming  Union University project aims to learn more about the  experiences of faculty members who are including students in their programs and classrooms. An upcoming TigerLIFE  project will study family quality of life.



Financial Assistance for Students Updates

Representatives from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation provided information on how inclusive higher education students can access Tennessee PROMISE and Reconnect dollars. Currently students in three programs (Next Steps at Vanderbilt, UT FUTURE and Union EDGE) are eligible. Additional programs are currently applying for eligibility.

An announcement from the TN Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services program was met with enthusiasm as members learned this year’s stipend for students eligible for VR support will increase!

Effective fall semester 2018 VR has increased funding for the Transitional Learning Services (TLS) programs at many colleges, not to exceed $3,000 per semester, not to exceed two (2) years or four (4) semesters.

For VR, TLS are considered vocational adjustment training services which include activities that:

  • Assist an individual to acquire personal and work habits, skills and techniques that will enable functioning in a formal training or employment setting;
  • Develop or increase work tolerance; or
  • Orient an individual to the world of work.

Currently, the following universities in Tennessee offer TLS:


Next meetings:

  • November 2, 2018 – Union University, 1 p.m.
  • February 2019 – Lipscomb University, time TBD
  • May 2019 – University of Memphis, 9 a.m.

Union EDGE welcomes new assistant director

In July, the Union EDGE Program welcomed its newest team member assistant director Andrew Blackard. Andrew graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education with a Health Endorsement from Union in December of 2015. He will live on campus to serve Union EDGE students in the evening and weekend time periods. Welcome, Andrew!

Save the date: Transition Tennessee Conference

Transition Tennessee has announced it will host a conference on January 28th, 2019 in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Education’s Partners in Education (PIE) statewide special education conference. Held at Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee, Passport to the Future, will equip educators, school administrators, VR professionals, providers, family members, and others with the tools and strategies to prepare young people with disabilities for life after high school.

While more detailed information will be announced soon, go ahead and bookmark the Conference website.

If you have questions, please contact Rachael Jenkins, Educational Consultant with Vanderbilt University, at rachael.jenkins@vanderbilt.edu or (615) 322-4999.

Inclusion Milestone at Vanderbilt University

Next Steps at Vanderbilt had a lot to celebrate in 2018, especially at commencement.  In this photograph, Diamond (class of 2018) receives her certificate from Sharon Shields, Associate Dean for Professional Education, during the Vanderbilt University graduation ceremony. This marks the first year that a student enrolled through Next Steps walked across the graduation stage with her fellow Peabody graduates. Inclusion matters and Diamond has a bright future ahead. Congratulations to Diamond and to all the 2018 graduates!