Students get college boost

Paige Parker

This article is reprinted with permission from The Seattle Times.

More than 40 students with disabilities from Washington and Oregon will learn how to be successful college students at a University of Washington camp beginning today.

The camp is run by the UW's Disabilities, opportunities, Internetworking and Technology program.

The camp, which runs through Aug. 11, is designed to teach disabled high-school juniors and seniors skills they will need to get through college, said Sheryl Burgstahler, program director. Organizers also hope to recruit students into high-level careers that rarely attract people with disabilities, such as accounting and medicine.

Participants are selected by a board that looks for highly motivated students with good leadership potential. The students must be capable of attending college with some accommodations. For example, a blind person with a learning disability might need extra time to take tests, Burgstahler said.

The state funds the free camp.

Students can spend as many as three summers in the program. First-year students attend classes and labs and live in residence halls for 11 days to get used to college life. Students are taught how to approach a faculty member to ask for extra help with an assignment, and how to find out more about services for the disabled on college campuses. They also meet and are taught by successful people with disabilities, Burgstahler said.

In their second summer, students return to the UW campus for one week to act as mentors for new students and to learn more about how to apply to college.

Students who return for a third summer serve as interns and help run the program.

Before students come to the camp, the program loans them computers to use at home. They are allowed to keep the computers as long as they stay involved in the program. Burgstahler said disabled students with access to computers have done better in college. And the computers help the students get to know their fellow campers over the Internet.

"It's nice that their disability is not the first thing people learn about them," Burgstahler said.

Since 1992, about 180 students have attended the camp. Of the 106 who have graduated from high school, 85 are enrolled in college and 13 have completed college degrees or have jobs.