As a toddler, Garrison Buchanan took his first steps at the ETSU Child Study Center.
This fall, he is back on campus leaving a new set of footprints, this time as the inaugural student in the Access ETSU program, an initiative designed for students with intellectual disabilities.
“Our goal with Access is to offer students the opportunity to have a college experience that is identical to their peers without disabilities,” said Dr. Cindy Chambers, an associate dean in the Clemmer College. “Garrison went through the public school system and graduated at the age of 18. When his friends went off to college, he had the same opportunity.
“Access students like Garrison do the very same things other ETSU students do,” she added. “They attend classes, meet up with friends at the Center for Physical Activity, go to football games, eat lunch in the dining hall and participate in internships. One of our main desired outcomes is to prepare Access participants for future employment, so students are able to take classes to gain skills that are aligned with their career goals.”
Chambers noted that research indicates that students who participate in inclusive higher education programs like Access are more likely to find employment.
Garrison’s dream is to work in a gym or somewhere in the sports field.
And thanks to the Access program, his resume is already taking shape. In addition to attending classes, Garrison is interning at ETSU’s Basler Center for Physical Activity as a facilities assistant, a position that he applied for and underwent an interview before being offered the job.
“Garrison brings energy and positivity to our team,” said Kari Albarado, director of Campus Recreation at ETSU. “He loves sports, fitness, working out and playing pickup basketball, and he brings a passion to his job.
“He does very well interacting with the students, faculty and staff when they come here to work out,” she added. “The Basler CPA is one of the largest employers on campus, and it is important that our student employees develop skills that they can use to build their resumes.”
Whether he is enjoying Zumba or is taking a physical education course, Garrison is often seen in the company of his BucMate, Matt Williams. Each Access participant is paired with a BucMate who tags along with the student and provides support as needed.
Chambers said because this initiative has been a campus-wide effort, participants have access to the same resources as other students do, such as the library, food services, and disability services.
“I go to class with Garrison, help get the notes and assignments, and we study together,” said Williams, a graduate student pursuing a degree in special education. “Some days we have more free time than others, and it just depends on what he wants to do.
“He knows the campus better than I do,” he laughed. “He is doing very well. On one of the first days of class, each of us were asked to stand up and tell the others about us. Garrison did great.”
This past August, Garrison attended Preview, a weekend-long event held prior to the start of classes that provides first-time freshmen the opportunity to build connections and make new friends.
Access ETSU is a two-year certificate program open to students who are 18-28 years of age and who have a desire to continue their education at the university level. Students are admitted at the beginning of the fall semester each year.