Propelled to excellence: UMKC program helps students prepare for college

Emma Lane

Propel: Verb. To drive, push, or cause to move in a particular direction. Noun. UMKC’s two-year comprehensive college experience for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Propel is a transitional program that supports students with intellectual developmental disabilities through academic coaching, peer mentors and other student support services.

“Our whole goal is to help our students achieve their best and reach their fullest potential in order to have a fulfilling life and a fulfilling job,” faculty member Shannon Wheeler said. “Our main hope is that they can take this academic experience and all the things they learn through work-based learning and have a fulfilling life.”

Propel classes are designed to be sequential and prepare students for their other college courses and the workplace. The courses cover everything students need to transition from secondary education to college and beyond. Classes include College Study Skills, Personal Finance and Developing a Career. In addition to traditional in-class experience, Propel students also get work-based learning through internships with local partners.

“We wholeheartedly believe that everyone, if they wanted to, should be allowed to choose to go to college,” Wheeler said. “We’re lucky that we actually live in a state that has options for the students that we serve.”

At their graduation, students receive the Leadership, Employment, and Community Engagement Certificate endorsed by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and college credit that can be transferred to become full-time UMKC students. There are currently three Propel graduates attending UMKC as full-time students.

“They’ve had the experience; they know what college is like,” Wheeler said. “Now they’ve transferred over 40 plus credits toward their degree program.”

In the first semester of Propel, students exclusively take Propel courses. In the second semester and onward, students take two Propel courses alongside two elective courses they pick based on their interests. Propel students take classes with non-Propel students 75% of the time. 

Peer mentors Tori Knox and Jade Flanders encourage people to interact with Propel students in their classes.

“I think because people think they have to treat them differently and don’t know how, they avoid interaction with the Propel students at all,” Knox said. “I want them to know not to be shy about interacting with Propel students. They should be treated like you would treat anyone else. They can make really good friends.”

Both Knox and Flanders would like more UMKC students to know Propel is on campus and have a better understanding of what the program does. 

“I would like them to know that its there. It’s a little niche in the community, but I think it’s a really unique one, and it’s a really special thing that I would love for people to be a part of,” Flanders said. “There are so many ways that you can be a part of Propel.”

The most common way for students to get involved is through peer mentoring. As mentors, students meet with their mentees a few times a week to work on homework, get involved on campus and just hang out.

“One day, one of my mentees brought a giant grasshopper into our meetings that she had put in a notebook,” Flanders said. “Things like that make it a lot of fun.”

Whether students share a class with a Propel student or become a peer mentor like Knox and Flanders, the program is a valuable addition to UMKC.

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