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H.O.W.L. Transition Program: Creating a Red Wolf Experience for Everyone
by Audrey Hanes

Just in time for the 2019-2020 school year, Arkansas State University kicked off the H.O.W.L. Transition Program, which is dedicated to providing positive learning environments for students with intellectual disabilities and autism. Later this month, the program’s staff and ambassadors will hold an inaugural HOWLing ‘20s Gala to raise money to better provide the A-State experience to all of the university’s students through engagement and inclusive practices.

The program launched in November 2019 thanks to Dr. Kristin Johnson, an assistant professor of psychology at A-State. Elizabeth Snow, the coordinator for the Helping Our Wolves Learn Transition Program (H.O.W.L.), says that Johnson saw a need for greater access to higher education and transition programs for students with intellectual disabilities and/or autism. She also envisioned a more inclusive program than other transition programs, in that it promotes inclusivity with the rest of the college campus. Students who participate in H.O.W.L. live on campus, attend classes and join organizations, just like any other student.

“Students with intellectual disabilities or autism often face barriers, such as lack of financial aid or inability to obtain test scores when it comes to being able to attend college,” said Snow, an A-State alumna with an Ed.S. degree in clinical mental health. “While there are a few transition programs in Arkansas, we are the only federally designated transition program. This means we are the only transition program which can accept financial aid.

“While each H.O.W.L. transition student receives the A-State experience and takes H.O.W.L. courses, we tailor a plan to help each student reach their individual goals. So if a student’s goal is to be able to live and work on their own, we help them develop these skills. If another student’s goal is to be able to pass the ACT while developing independent living skills, then this is what we work for.”

H.O.W.L. works with students in a wide variety of ways, mentoring being one of the key services; the mentors are a group of students, faculty and staff volunteers who work one-on-one with students. The program provides mentoring for academic success in the classroom, in daily life and independent skills. Students also have access to trained professionals who specialize in social, emotional and behavioral goals. The A-State Career Services Center has partnered with H.O.W.L. to work with each student’s career aspirations during their internships, and the transition program’s mentors will also help H.O.W.L. students with transitioning from living at home to living on campus, including finances, budgeting and daily living skills. 

A-State Chancellor Dr. Kelly Damphousse says he is excited that Arkansas State will be the first in the state to provide a fully inclusive college experience for those with Down syndrome or autism. 

“Each of them will have graduated from high school before they attend their transition to college program this summer,” said Damphousse. “As with all of our students, our goal is to help prepare these young people with the ability to transition into relatively independent living as they transition into life after college. I’m super proud of the hard work of H.O.W.L. Transition Director Kristin Johnson and all the faculty, students and staff members who are volunteering to make this program work.”

To raise money to help fund scholarships for the new program, H.O.W.L. will hold a HOWLing ‘20s Gala on March 7 in the Centennial Hall Ballroom on the A-State campus.

“It’s going to be a great time,” said Snow. “We have a truly inspirational keynote speaker, Karen Gaffney, musical performances by Cory Jackson and Jazz Extraordinaire, a silent auction and great food. Proceeds of the gala will be used to begin funding a scholarship for H.O.W.L. transition students.”

Gaffney is the first person with intellectual disabilities to receive an honorary doctorate for dedication and advocacy? for individuals with intellectual disabilities. She is an accomplished long-distance swimmer and founded a nonprofit to support individuals with intellectual disabilities. Gaffney travels around the world to speak about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations.

“Please support us by coming to our gala on March 7,” said Snow. “We are (also) looking for community volunteers.”

For more information about Arkansas State University’s H.O.W.L. Transition Program, visit astate.edu or email Elizabeth Snow at esnow@astate.edu. The HOWLing ‘20s Gala will take place at 5:30 p.m. at Centannial Hall, and Roaring Twenties attire is encouraged. Tickets are $45 for students and $60 for general admission.