July 27, 2023 By CDHD Vandal Summer Academy sheds light on life after high school It’s not unusual for the University of Idaho (UI) to draw students over the summer months who are weighing up their future academic options. In fact, the Vandal Summer Academy (VSA) has been welcoming students with disabilities to do just that since 2017. This post-secondary transition program is a collaboration between the UI College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, Idaho CDHD and Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (IDVR). It is available to high school students aged 14 to 21 who are thinking about attending UI and would like an on-campus experience. Dr Andrew Scheef is the VSA program coordinator. We sat down for a chat about the program and the many benefits it provides to students with disabilities who are considering their post high school plans. “Vandal Summer Academy is an on-campus, residential, five-day experience for high school students in Idaho (who work with Division of Vocational Rehabilitation), who have an interest or curiosity in attending college or exploring post-secondary education options after they finish high school,” said Dr Scheef. Over the course of the five days, students live in the dorms. They eat at the dining hall. They socialize with peers, and they hang out with UI student mentors. For some participants, VSA allows them to explore post-secondary education and confirm their interest in pursuing it. It even offers them the chance to compare Idaho universities, with similar programs available at Boise State University and Idaho State University. Students can see first-hand which university will best suit their academic, personal and social goals. For others, the program is about realizing that college may not be their preferred path after high school. “That’s a positive outcome as well because college isn’t for everyone,” said Dr Scheef. “When we think about college, there’s this huge academic piece, but there’s also that social piece and personal living/community navigation piece that new college students must manage. A lot of the good they get from the program is hanging out with college kids and having those informal conversations about what college is like, how to be successful.” A large part of VSA is getting to know the University and what it can offer to these students. Dr Scheef works with different campus partners such as Vandal Health Education, Career Services, CDAR and more to facilitate learning sessions that focus on key topics relevant to their time at UI: general student information (admissions, financial aid, Greek life, on-campus housing, etc) job and college readiness (resumes, interviews, self-determination, self-advocacy, etc) facilities and resources available to them while on campus (accommodations, mental and physical health, access, etc). They also have the opportunity to attend sessions tailored to their individual academic interests. This includes an introduction to programs they may want to enroll in. “I meet with the students before they come and get a sense of their career interests. I align some of the activities so they can meet people who are experts in their field of interest. Engineering, agriculture, whatever it is, I make sure they can meet with folks who can give them guidance,” said Dr Scheef. To provide a full picture of life at UI, participants also spend their evenings socializing and exploring Moscow, with recreation activities planned around campus and the city. This ranges from dinner with their peers at a Downtown Moscow restaurant to Screen on the Green or climbing the rock wall at the UI Rec Center. It’s all about creating an environment where they can hang out and have fun with their peers, while getting to know the University and its surrounds. VSA strives to provide an authentic and well-rounded experience each year to help participants effectively plan their next steps, whatever they may be. Participants gain insight and memories, while staff have the opportunity to showcase everything they love about life at UI. It’s a relevant and valuable resource available to Idaho’s students with disabilities. “The whole thing is a highlight for me ... I like to watch them develop relationships, get comfortable, get more confident. It’s great to watch them connect with people from their areas of interest. It’s great to see them so motivated and excited. For me, it’s all about watching those relationships develop and watching them get more experience in a career area they’re interested in.” Vandal Summer Academy will be returning next year to offer another group of potential Vandals the opportunity to explore college and campus life. If you would like more information on the program, email Dr Andrew Scheef at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about how to sign up, contact IDVR.