Exploring Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment: An Interview with College Student Jake Keene

 The ICEI (Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative) Program at Middlesex Community College is a dual enrollment opportunity for high school students (ages 18-21) with disabilities. ICEI is a kind of college transition program, and it is funded by the MAICEI (Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative) grant, which offers funding to partnered colleges in order to promote inclusive learning experiences. To learn more, please visit the MCC ICEI Program page and the MAICEI grant site.

Jake Keene was a student in the ICEI program for six semesters and graduated in spring of 2018. As a learner with a wide variety of interests, Jake chose to take courses from several disciplines, including Age of Dinosaurs, Preparation for College Math, Theater Appreciation, History of Theater, English Comp I, Myths, History of World Civilization Before 1500, and a Career Exploration Seminar. Jake maintained a high GPA and gained many college credits during his time in the program.

Aside from academics, Jake has also built an impressive social community on campus. He now spends much of his free time with a large group of friends in the student lounge. Jake also participates in a club known as the “Gamers Guild.” In the past, Jake was also the Vice President of a social club. He has attended many campus events which helped to further connect him with the college community.

Jake has been a model student for the ICEI Program and now continues to succeed as a fully matriculated student at Middlesex Community College. He has been asked to share his experience on many occasions in order to inspire other students. At the Welcome Day Orientation, Jake was asked to speak to the new students and families joining the ICEI Program. Last June, Jake was also asked to speak at his graduation ceremony. Overall Jake Keene has been a great success and, through this interview, I hope to learn more about his various experiences and what words of wisdom he can pass along to incoming students.

 Olivia Tyson: You were a student at the ICEI Program for six semesters. Can you speak a bit about your experience in the program? What types of supports did you receive? Did the program help ease your transition into college?

Jake Keene: Speaking first about the experience I had, I found it was remarkably flexible. I could actually pick classes instead of being assigned certain classes. Though, granted, there are still parts of degrees that require you to take certain classes, the ability to choose has benefitted me a lot. It means that I can shape what my degree is going to look like. Or what my experience is going to look like.

Time management I found was difficult at first, but then I started looking ahead. I saw what time class started and ended, and how much time I needed for studying and doing homework. Once I started getting a grasp on that, everything started feeling much easier and more manageable.

[One of the most important supports I received was] pep talks. General and comprehensive advice. Basically just words of wisdom that helped me decide, ok: “what do I need to do? What needs to get done? How should I do it?” It was a stepping stone. It did ease my actual transition into the college because now it’s also pretty manageable, thanks to that.

OT: When I was your ed coach, I noticed certain classes were more challenging than others. Can you talk about one of these classes, and what strategies you used to get through it? (Ex. Allotting homework time, study strategies, reaching out for support)

JK: I think the biggest hurdle I had to get over is my tendency to procrastinate, because I do have a very bad habit of procrastinating. I tend to go on XBox Live and play video games, usually with friends or sometimes by myself. I watched the clock tick away and basically do nothing but just stare at my computer screen and go, “Ok, what should I do? How should I do this?” I would blankly stare for hours on end not knowing what to do.

That actually happened with a few classes. But, eventually ,I just found the courage to just type or just write what I needed to do. Because it’s like a swimming pool. It’s like a very deep swimming pool. It’s intimidating at first, but once you jump in and just do it, it’s fine. You just gotta take the plunge.

OT: What was one of your favorite classes, and why? Was there anything about that professor that helped you learn better?

JK: Oh, that’s actually kind of hard because I’ve liked quite a few of them. Intro to Acting was a very, very fun class; I enjoyed that. Also Myths, which I enjoyed for the context and for insight into actual mythology and world religions. I took Cultural Anthropology and Sci-Fi Fantasy Literature—both of those were great.

My Intro to Acting and Theater Appreciation professor was very active, hands-on, informative, and experienced. She’s also just a ton of fun and very engaging, too. A few of the others were also very informative and engaging, but she’s probably the most engaging I’ve had so far. I’m looking forward to taking another class with her before I graduate to help round out my future degree. Whatever it may be.

OT: You’ve mentioned before that making social connections was a big point of anxiety when you started the ICEI Program. Now you have a strong friend group and participate in several activities on campus. How did you overcome your fear and start making friends on campus? Did you use the student lounge, join clubs, or meet people in class?

JK: What got me at first—when I found I needed to socialize to make it through each semester—was I just simply didn’t feel comfortable talking to other people. Because usually I’m not really exposed to many social environments. I mean, I’ve made friends in the past and I do socialize with them. But, trying to carry that over into a completely different environment like a college campus was a challenge. A big, big challenge. Especially since I wasn’t really the one who was taking the initiative to actually talk to others.

But, what I eventually found was that I just needed to chime into whatever conversations were happening and provide some kind of insight or information. And then they just kind of accepted me like that. They accepted me into the conversation as I went back and forth with each of them. And that’s kind of how you make friends, anyway. So, that was something I picked up on pretty quickly.

And something I want to share is you can’t just say, “Oh, I know what this is” and then just go “umm” and “hmm.” You have to really know what they’re talking about, if you want to be accepted. Because, otherwise, it just seems like you’re faking knowing about something just to join them. And I’m kind of guilty of that, too. You can also notice how uncertain and unsure other people are. But at the same time, I know they’re trying to fit and socialize with us, because they see that we’re cool people and they want to hang out with cool people. So, it’s not something you can really fault them on.

OT: Now that you have graduated from the ICEI Program and are a fully matriculated student, how have you found the transition? Do you continue to use supports, such as Disability Services? If so, how have these supports helped you continue to be successful?

JK: The transition to college I found was actually pretty smooth. It’s not too different. I know [the ed coaches] aren’t necessarily helping me anymore, but I found I can manage on my own just as well. Thank you guys for that. And as for supports, I don’t actually use supports all that much. It’s not that I don’t know that they’re there. I know that they are absolutely there and they are available, I just don’t really give myself the opportunity to use them. I kind of feel like they’re going to waste. But, then, the opportunity never really arises for me to use them, anyway.

I don’t really feel the need to [meet with anyone in Disabilities Services] because I feel like just presenting myself as I am—without revealing that I have a disability. It doesn’t make too much sense to me, but I know other people’s experiences will be different. I just like to present myself as a person and not really as a person with a disability.

OT: Do you have any words of wisdom to impart to incoming college students? What types of things do you wish you knew when you first started?

JK: I said this in my graduation speech, and I will say it again: change is good. It is ok to change up your routines. It is ok to try new things. It is completely all right to go to places you’ve never seen before. Because you learn new lessons, you gain new experiences, and you meet new people. And learning and getting new stuff is perfectly fine. Your flesh is not going to melt off by being at [college]. You’re going to be absolutely ok as long as you can accept that things will change.

OT: Is there anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t touched on today?

JK: The courses themselves I know will seem very complex, elaborate, and sophisticated. But, once you start to wrap your head around the content, the concepts, the lessons being taught, and the questions being asked, it starts to become less alien and more familiar. Especially if you’ve just heard whispers of them before. You can probably relay that to instructors and others around you, like “I’ve heard this mentioned before” or “I’ve heard that from this guy.” I mean, I learn the most about science from Bill Nye the Science Guy. So, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just saying, “I’ve heard of this” can make a connection between you and the professor, which is just as good as saying, “I know all about this.”

Questions or comments for Olivia? Is there a college transition program such as ICEI near you? Join the conversation!

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Olivia Tyson is an educational coach who works for the ICE (Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment) Program at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts. She helps students in the classroom, as well as with homework assignments, social connections, and immersion into campus life. She also has a younger brother named Nick who has autism and attends a residential program. Olivia enjoys teaching, studying and creating art, and spending time with her family.

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