First Class

(l) Chris Hunnicutt, (r) Kelsey Bizzell

Academy for Inclusive Adult Education graduates first alumni It was a typical graduation scene:…

Georgia (May 13, 2011)

Academy for Inclusive Adult Education graduates first alumni

It was a typical graduation scene: friends and family were gathered; diplomas were conferred; congratulations were offered; and lots of photographs of the new graduates were taken. There were even a few tears.

But this wasn’t your typical college commencement. On May 10, Kelsey Bizzell and Chris Hunnicutt became the first alumni of Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Adult Education.

The academy offers a unique two-year certificate program designed to provide students with developmental disabilities a college experience. The academy is part of the WellStar College of Health and Human Services.

“We’re the only university in the state of Georgia to give young adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to have a college experience,” said WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Richard Sowell. “Here at Kennesaw State we are focused on inclusion as part of the university’s mission, so the academy is a natural extension of what KSU is all about.”

Bizzell’s mom, Kimberly Tilford, expressed her gratitude for the academy and praised the university’s spirit of inclusiveness.

“We have watched Kelsey’s immense growth as a young adult under the guidance of many awesome KSU people,” Tilford said. “Specifically, (program director) Harry Stern and (program coordinator) Jill Sloan are absolutely amazing in their daily plight. Truly, everyone that has worked with Kelsey has been a positive influence. Our heartfelt thanks are extended to the excellent professors, the Bursar's office, the unsurpassed bookstore staff, the friendly Commons staff, the smiling parking lot attendants, and anyone who took the time to be kind and encouraging to our daughter as she has walked the KSU campus these last two years. It is refreshing to know people at KSU are choosing to see the possibilities and minimize any perceived disabilities.”

Program coordinator Sloan said Bizzell and Hunnicutt each brought different talents to the university. Bizzell was an “exemplary scholar,” she said, while Hunnicutt’s gregarious personality helped raise the visibility of the program.

“I am very, very proud of you,” she told the new graduates. “You are so brave to be the leaders in offering something that has never been offered before.”

Bizzell and Hunnicutt were part of the academy’s original three-student cohort, arriving on campus in fall 2009. The program has been so successful that three additional students will be enrolled in the academy this fall, and a future collaboration with Georgia State University and the University of Georgia will create a consortium dedicated to replicating the program throughout the University System of Georgia’s 35 colleges and universities.

Plans call for enrolling 25 students in the academy by 2012, and that’s welcome news to Karla Wade, the transition specialist for Cobb County Schools.

“This program has been a long time in coming,” Wade said. “This is a huge accomplishment, not just for these two students, but for all students with developmental disabilities in Georgia who want a post-secondary education, and until today, those doors have been closed.”

Of the 800 special-education students statewide, Wade estimates there are 250 potential academy students in Georgia alone.

By Jennifer Hafer


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit