"Leader of the Pack"

Angie Gomez and her daughter Natalie

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 8, 2015) — The Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at…

Georgia (Oct 8, 2015)

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 8, 2015) — The Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University recently received funding that will allow its students the opportunity to apply for scholarships to cover the costs of tuition, housing, books, meal plans and program fees.

The latest developments were celebrated at a reception Tuesday evening hosted by the Academy. WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Monica Nandan welcomed guests, including state Reps. Katie Dempsey and Valencia Stovall, the deputy director of the Senate Budget and Evaluation Office and a representative from the House Speaker’s Office.

“Our students are not eligible for HOPE or Pell Grants, and this scholarship will help cover costs, depending on income,” said Ibrahim Elsawy, executive director of the Academy, an initiative in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services. “Though there are now three more Academy-like programs in the state, we’re the only ones eligible to receive these federal funds as a certified Comprehensive Transition Program.”

Additional funding is also being provided by the Georgia Department of Education for two new staff positions and the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) is providing a dedicated vocational rehab counselor, or job coach, for all interested Academy students.

“This funding and these new positions provide more opportunities for more students,” said Katherine Rigsby, the Academy’s operations coordinator. “And, the scholarship money in particular will help students remain in the program because before we had students dropping out because they couldn’t afford to stay.”

Greg Schmieg, executive director of GVRA, praised the University and the Academy for being leaders in providing post-secondary educational opportunities for people with disabilities.

“The song, ‘Leader of the Pack’ comes to mind because when I think of Kennesaw State University, you are the leader of the pack,” he said. “The Academy represents the importance of partnerships; in the world we live in, you can’t do anything by yourself.”

The Academy offers two unique two-year certificate programs designed to provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities a college experience through the auditing of college-level courses, as well as courses designed to help them gain social, work and living skills, so they can find jobs they want and become more independent.

What began as a pilot program with three students six years ago under then-WellStar Dean Richard Sowell has grown into a 28-student, two-year experience, including a spring study abroad trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Angie Gomez’s daughter, Natalie, is an Academy student and volunteers at Cobb Hospital.

“God doesn’t make mistakes,” she said. “He brings good people together to do good things. Because of the Academy, Natalie is an individual out there in the community making a difference, and I want to thank you for that.”

As part of the evening’s festivities the Academy recognized several supporters with awards including:

  • Karen Lynn Dominy - Vocational Rehabilitation- Rehabilitation Unit Manager;
  • Bernadette Amerein - Vocational Rehabilitation- Field Services Director;
  • Ed James - Vocational Rehabilitation – Director;
  • Deborah Gay- Department of Education - Director of Special Education Services and Supports; and
  • Greg Schmieg - Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency - Executive Director.

The GVRA presented the following awards:

  • 2015 GVRA E(3) Award for Vision: KSU President Daniel S. Papp;
  • 2015 GVRA E(3) Award for Innovation: Deborah Gay;
  • 2015 GVRA E(3) Award for Leadership: Dr. Ibrahim Elsawy;
  • 2015 GVRA E(3) Award for Collaboration: KSU Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth (Julia Conger, Susan Kizer, Dr. Beverly Maddox, Katherine Rigsby, Jill Sloan and Christopher Trapp); and
  • 2015 GVRA E(3) Award for Service: Dr. Karla Wade.

By Jennifer Hafer

Photo by: Anthony Stalcup


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 kennesaw.edu