Quest supports college students with disabilities

Oftentimes, when people set the goal of enhancing and celebrating diversity on campus, they consider programs aimed at supporting students of different racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic or gender-identity cohorts.

One group that often gets overlooked in the push to be more inclusive, however, is students with disabilities. Part of the reason these students may get overlooked is that they themselves comprise an incredibly diverse group, with many different strengths and needs. As we are learning in many areas of higher education, the one-size-fits-all traditional approach to education does not work for many of our students, and it often does not work well with our students with disabilities.

What we are learning is that in order to help these talented students thrive at FM, we must meet them where they are and provide the kind of targeted, individualized support they need. This type of support requires that we get to know each student well, spend time with them and tailor our approach to their individual situation. Our goal for Quest is to help support these students outside of the classroom so that they may thrive within the classroom.

So what is Quest? In a nutshell, Quest is a federally funded grant program aimed at supporting college students with disabilities as they earn their degrees, transfer to four-year schools or enter the workforce. We provide academic advising, tutoring, personal support, assistance with financial aid, and career and transfer assistance. This assistance can take many forms.

The Quest program began at the end of the fall semester and was in full swing by mid-January. Over the spring semester, I had the opportunity to connect with students, create a space they could decompress, help them with assignments, help them find answers to their questions, and generally break down barriers that can impede progress. I guided students on how to ask their professors for help. I did my work alongside students who needed me to be handy if they had a question as they worked on their own assignments. There is a sense of security that comes from having someone by your side when you’re struggling.

Forming those relationships, knowing that someone has your back and cares whether you go to class is what keeps students going. When students are upset, it’s my job to get to the heart of the problem, or provide a judgment-free space to work it out, but also to say, “What are we going to do about it?” If a student is struggling academically, Quest has the resources to provide one-on-one tutors. Some of the students I’ve seen panic at the thought of asking a question in class or approaching a professor. For some, the one-on-one tutor is a low-risk alternative space where they can ask questions of one person who isn’t responsible for assigning a grade and has no idea what kind of student they are in the classroom. There is safety in anonymity.

In my short time here at FM as part of Quest, I have helped several students work on resumes, apply for jobs and visit transfer schools. I have helped with scholarship applications and essays, handed out tissues and celebrated graduation. I look forward to spending many more years cheering for my students and connecting resources for them. For more information about Quest, please contact me at (518) 736-FMCC (3622), Ext. 8166, or via email at [email protected].

Jennifer Pendleton is the Quest Learning Services coordinator.

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