PROFILE | Auburn University EAGLES Program
Auburn EAGLES students are soaring into a life of independence, embracing their intellectual disabilities and remain busy fighting for equity while the student government remains stagnant.
Quin Thomas and Sadie Weldon are students of EAGLES, Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success, Auburn’s Comprehensive Transition Program (CTP) for students with intellectual disabilities.
The EAGLES program piloted at Auburn in fall of 2018. As of spring 2021 there are over 55 campus partners that support involvement, education, wellness, as well as employment opportunities.
There are over 300 similar programs in the U.S.; Auburn is the only school in the nation with a program that consists of 2 CTP’s, including a two or four-year campus experience to help students achieve their employment and independent living goals upon successful completion of the program.
In an interview with EAGLES staff and members, Dr. Jessica Milton expressed her gratitude that “Auburn has truly embraced the program and all that we stand for,” while acknowledging there needs to be more awareness.
Many students do not know about the EAGLES program and the ones that do “... have a preconceived notion,” Thomas said.
Thomas is a third-generation Auburn student who had dreams of carrying on the tradition and is eternally grateful that “this gave me the opportunity to come to Auburn.” As a Wisconsin native, Thomas explains his excitement of leaving the cold weather, but he was not prepared for the trials he would face. “Back in Wisconsin, all the friends I had, they knew me as me. When I told them, I had a disability they didn’t care. But here I would rather meet someone without them knowing I was in the program. I’ve had to completely readjust.”
Weldon affirmed Thomas’s statement by adding “we are just normal students.” Weldon is a Diamond Doll for the Auburn University Baseball Team and pledged Chi Omega last fall.
EAGLES students are required to enroll in four classes a semester and follow a strict schedule for accountability. They are required to attend wellness events, group counseling, visit at least three job sites and attend personal training twice a week. “We are busier than most students,” Thomas added.
Weldon volunteers at the Lee County Humane Society as well as the on-campus Be Well Hut. Thomas stays busy working at the Dean Recreation Center through the City of Auburn. Thomas credits the program for his newfound confidence as a young working college student.
Thomas is completing his CTP by leading as a peer mentor and says he has found his calling. “My dream for these types of programs, I don't care how far down the line, I think the CTP should lead to a degree with the necessary support systems, it could happen when I’m dead, but if this happens it will make me really, really happy,” Thomas shared.
Although EAGLES has grown tremendously in the last three years, there are numerous hurdles they face regarding equity and inclusion. One of these roadblocks is the lack of representation in the Student Government Association.
Each year, SGA candidates build a platform to encourage student support. Most recently Miss Auburn Candidate Abby Smith made the EAGLES program the face of her campaign. President-elect Rett Waggoner encouraged Auburn to “Rise with Rett” and “Raise the standard within SGA.” In Waggoner’s platform, he writes “represent ALL students more thoroughly by adding an Executive vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” but this is not enough for Quin Thomas.
“Someone from EAGLES should have a place in SGA. I don’t like people that have no clue what it is like to have an intellectual disability having a say on things that are for and about people with intellectual disabilities. It comes to a point where no number of degrees, they don’t know what it's like. It is very rare that anyone in power allows us to have any say. This is a huge issue. I guess I should talk to the SGA president,” said Thomas.
As of now, there are no representatives from the EAGLES program that have been invited to sit on the SGA cabinet.
Thomas wants “to show everyone their potential,” which can only be done when there is true equity on every inch of Auburn’s campus.
“As the student body continues to grow, so will every aspect of our program,” Milton said.
SGA, are you ready to soar into growth? The EAGLES are ready to land.