Inclusive Student Symposium

Academy students
Academy students pose for pictures before the Symposium begins.

Academy students shared their experiences, successes and struggles

KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb 6, 2017) — It was all selfies and smiles when students in the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth and their supporters recently gathered for the first “Inclusive Post-Secondary International Student Symposium.”

“To let you know how important this event is to me,” said WellStar Health and Human Services Dean Mark Tillman, “I’m actually missing a meeting with the provost right now.”

Housed in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services at Kennesaw State University, the Academy offers a college experience to students with different intellectual and developmental abilities. Academy students audit college-level courses, live on campus, study abroad and hold down campus jobs alongside their traditional peers.

“We are grateful that President Olens and Dean Tillman re-arranged their busy schedules in order to join us,” said Ibrahim Elsawy, executive director of the Academy. “Looking forward, we will expand our circle of invitations and encourage participation from other IPSE programs. We feel that everyone should have a voice.”

The Symposium was an opportunity for Academy students to share their experiences, successes and struggles in an inclusive post-secondary environment.

Cate Weir, the program director of the Think College National Coordinating Center (TCNCC) housed at the University of Massachusetts Boston, served as the keynote speaker.

“When you go to college, it’s an opportunity to be on your own and learn what you’re personally passionate about and use your own voice,” Weir said.

ThinkCollege is a training and technical assistance center focused on post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities (

“We all have gifts, and we all have challenges, every single human being,” Weir said. “Focus on your gifts and passions, and that’s what can really make a difference in whether you succeed or fail.”

According to Weir, in 2004, there were just 25 inclusive post-secondary programs around the country. In 2017, there are about 275. Kennesaw State’s Academy, the first of its kind in Georgia, was founded in 2009.

“It’s really exciting to see that development,” she said. “In some parts of the country there are no opportunities, but that is beginning to change.”

Academy student Katz Bagley is a first-year who wants to one day own her own bakery. Her symposium presentation focused on campus social life.

“It can be a struggle making time for friends while you’re focused on your studies,” she said. “What I learned from my friends is to have fun at school because sometimes it can be boring, but if you have the right friends, they will make school really fun.”

Danny Braun another first-year student, focused his presentation on academics.

“I decided to come to KSU to make my days much more productive and start the transition of becoming a grown man,” he said. “When I started high school, I didn’t think I was going to college.”

An avid video game player, Braun said he hopes to one day become a game developer.

“One of the challenges is a lack of motivation,” he said. “I tell myself I need to make this my top priority for now.”



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