More than anything, Austin Shirk wanted to be a Buckeye.
From his home in Allen, Texas, he’d cheer for the football team alongside his parents, Dina ’88 and Dave ’92, and he often went to games when visiting Ohio relatives. As he grew up, he dreamed of taking college classes at Ohio State, making new friends and finding a good job.
But his prospects for higher education seemed remote to Austin and his parents. Austin is among millions of people in this country with an intellectual or developmental disability, less than a quarter of whom go on to college after finishing high school, according to Think College, a national nonprofit working to raise that percentage.
As for finding a good job, “We were having a heck of a time getting anyone to give Austin a chance in Texas,” Dina said. Though her son enrolled in independent living and job training programs, they didn’t lead to jobs. Instead, he languished on waiting lists.
If local programs could not help Austin, the Shirks decided, then they would move on. They began searching for an alternative and could hardly believe it when their quest led to their alma mater.
Ohio State had created a program in 2011 called Transition Options in Postsecondary Settings, or TOPS, to provide personalized support to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The program is designed for students who want to learn life skills and find a job that matches their abilities and talents — all while experiencing the university’s vibrant academic and social life.
Austin had a chance to be a Buckeye.
He couldn’t fill out the TOPS application fast enough, and the Shirks waited nervously for the call. Then it came: He was in. “It was a big accomplishment, a big step to get into TOPS,” Austin said.
A world of firsts awaited Austin when he arrived in Columbus in 2014. While he was excited to be on campus, it was a big adjustment, and he would be living in his own apartment for the first time. Austin, who loved auditing classes with more “typical” Ohio State students, discovered a special interest he didn’t know of: “I enjoyed earth sciences, especially the lectures, labs and hands-on activities,” he said.
Based on that, his job coaches found him internships with the Nisonger Center Dental Program and a private dental clinic in Columbus, where he assembled instrumentation trays and sterilized equipment.
After completing the TOPS program in 2016, Austin went to work at the Wexner Medical Center where he supports the Central Sterile Supply department. His position pays a fair-market wage with full benefits, including retirement benefits and health insurance. “I love my job,” he said. “It’s worth going through the [challenges that accompany] being in TOPS.”
His manager, Jen Smith, is similarly delighted.
“Austin is so eager to learn new tasks, and he gets along with everyone,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen one human being get along so well with everyone.” It’s not just that Austin is nice; his contributions make the entire team more effective. “He can handle tasks that were taking our clinical staff away from production,” said Smith, who hopes to create another job with TOPS. “We would have two of Austin if we could.”
In helping students find their way as young adults, TOPS changes lives for entire families.
“I am so excited about Austin’s job,” Dina Shirk said. “When we got his diagnosis at age 10, the doctor said, ‘If I were you, I would teach him a few things and forget everything else.’ We never went back to him, and Austin has so exceeded those expectations.”
Source: MacLellan, Erin. “On Top of the World.” The Ohio State University Alumni Association, Ohio State Alumni Magazine, 2017, www.osu.edu/alumni/news/ohio-state-alumni-magazine/issues/march-april-2017/on-top-of-the-world.html.
Applications Open for SIL’s Leadership Academy – DUE October 9th
Services for Independent Living – Ohio has opened applications for the Fall/Winter Leadership Academy. The eight-week course is designed to help individuals with disabilities develop skills to participate on nonprofit boards, community coalitions, task forces and system change committees.
The course will be held online from October 26 to December 14, 2020 on Monday afternoons from 1:00 to 4:00 pm . The exact dates are October 26; November 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; December 7, 14.
During the training sessions, participants will develop a basic working knowledge and understanding about topics related to serving on a board, coalition, task force or committee. Training topics include the following:
- Community Leadership
- Disability History & Disability Advocacy
- Functions of a Nonprofit Board
- Government Committees, Nonprofit Committees, Commissions, Task Forces & Councils
- Communications, Confidentiality & Board Ethics
- Networking and Developing Community Contacts
Upon completion of the Leadership Academy, SIL will work with participants to identify areas of interest and potential leadership opportunities in the community. Leadership Academy participants will also be paired with mentors who are Leadership Academy graduates.
Any person with a disability who wants to learn how to make a difference and gain confidence and leadership experience in community decision-making on issues important to him or her.
To apply, please contact Laura Gold for an application by calling 216-815-0015 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for applications is October 9th. Space is limited so we encourage you to apply early. If you need help filling out the application, please let Laura know.
Source: “DD Council Connection – September 2020.” Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, Sept. 2020, ddc.ohio.gov/News/Newsletters/DD-Council-Connection/DD-Council-Connection-September-2020.
One of my main focuses as the TOPS Academic Coordinator has been to help establish the Academic Center as an openly available resource for students who might need designated time to work on school- or work-related tasks. Over the past year, the Academic Center has moved from a tiny room to our new hub of academic success in McCampbell Hall Room 251, complete with computers, a chalkboard, and other helpful resources. We have also added evening hours for students who may have busy daytime schedules.
One of our most valuable resources available in the Academic Center is our team of volunteer tutors. This semester, with a group of 20+ tutors, there is always someone to help students with tasks such as reading textbooks, prompting ideas for papers or reflections, and getting into the habit of making sure all assignments are completed. Tutors have also helped to practice speeches, assist in making notecards for an upcoming exam, and to help recall information for a class.
There is always something that a student can work on in the Academic Center! For example:
- Practice answering interview questions
- Check the course syllabus to see what events/assignments are coming up
- Review previously read chapters in the textbook to check understanding
- Work on assignments for the SLC courses
- Edit resume
- Plan social events for the TOPS Social Calendar
- Research fun and engaging community service ideas
- Find OSU student clubs and organizations that may be of interest
- AND, it never hurts to get ahead in schoolwork!
I highly encourage students to challenge themselves to complete some of the above activities to make sure that they use their Academic Center time productively! A student can and should take advantage of the tutoring center even if it’s not during a time when he or she is scheduled to be there. I am very proud to see that attendance in the Academic Center has become more and more consistent, which tells me that students are taking charge of their own academic success!
Still not sure when the Academic Center is open? Here is the schedule for your reference:
- MONDAY: 10:00am – 2:30pm; 5:00pm – 8:00pm
- TUESDAY: 10:00am – 2:30pm; 5:00pm – 8:00pm
- WEDNESDAY: 10:00am – 2:30pm
- THURSDAY: 10:00am – 2:30pm
- FRIDAY: 10:00am – 4:00pm
- WEEKEND: closed