Friends In High Places

Academy Executive Director Ibrahim Elsawy
Academy Executive Director Ibrahim Elsawy

Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth continues pioneering ways

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov 11, 2016) — KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 10, 2016) – The Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University was a pioneer in providing post-secondary educational opportunities to students with different intellectual or developmental abilities. Today, the Academy continues its trailblazing ways, partnering with a princess from the United Arab Emirates to champion the cause of inclusion.

“It was for us, something we never thought of, students with disabilities going to inclusive universities,” Her Highness Sheikha Jameela said during a recent trip to campus. “The idea was new to us.”

In 2015, Academy students, with the support of Sheikha Jameela, studied abroad in the UAE for the first time, visiting the cities of Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The princess’s visit to KSU was part of the ongoing collaboration between the Academy and her organization, the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, a nonprofit that provides advocacy, inclusion and empowerment for people with disabilities.

During her visit, the princess toured the campus; met with campus leaders, including Provost Ken Harmon, Vice Provost and Chief International Officer Lance Askildson and WellStar College of Health and Human Services Dean Mark Tillman; had lunch with Academy students in The Commons; and visited several community organizations serving individuals with challenges.

“We had a lot of fun,” she said. “It was a pleasure to see the students; to see the smiles, the hugs and the laughter. Nothing in life is more important than seeing that happiness and feeling it.”

Though there are currently no opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to attend college in the UAE, Sheikha Jameela is using the Academy as a model for what is possible.

“We need to prepare the people and the educational system (to support the idea),” she said. “The people there need to believe in it, and that takes time.”

Plans are already in the works for the Academy’s 2017 trip to the UAE, and the princess has requested Academy students host one-on-one English lessons. Academy Executive Director Ibrahim Elsawy was quick to agree.

“It’s an exchange experience,” he said. “It’s not one way; it’s two way.”

According to Elsawy, early next year, the Academy will take a page from the princess’s playbook and create a job for an Academy graduate. Ten percent of employees at Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services are individuals with disabilities.

“That’s one of the things we learned from them,” he said. “We cannot ask the community to hire our graduates, if we don’t.”

The Academy, housed in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services, offers students with different intellectual or developmental abilities the opportunity for a college experience, including living on campus and an education-abroad program. Academy students audit college-level courses in the two-year certificate program that was the first in Georgia to offer post-secondary educational opportunities to persons with different intellectual and developmental abilities.

By Jennifer Hafer

 Photos by Lauren Lopez de Azua


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