Upcoming Graduate Student Spotlight: Jake Schoen!

Help us celebrate Jake!

Image of TOPS student, Jake, smiling next to a statue of Brutus Buckeye

TOPS wants to recognize all of the hard work and accomplishments of the upcoming TOPS graduates by hearing about their individual experiences. This time, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jake Schoen. Below is the interview with Jake.

What is your name?

My name is Jake Schoen.

When did you start TOPS?

I started TOPS in August 2018.

What was your favorite class at TOPS?

My favorite class was Acting 3 because I love acting and monologues.

What is one of your favorite memories from TOPS?

My favorite memory is the escape room from our summer orientation.

How was your overall experience with TOPS? Was it fun, hard, exciting?

It was pretty good.

What will you miss most about college?

My theatre classes and my internships at Navy ROTC and RPAC. I will also miss my involvement with Autism U at OSU.

What was your favorite thing about college?

My theatre classes and Autism U at OSU

What job do you have now?

I am finishing up my work at the ROTC and RPAC and plan to start working again in the fall.

What is your dream job?

I’m still deciding what career path I want to go on.

If you could describe college in one word, what would it be?


Congratulations Jake! We are excited to see what your future holds!

Upcoming Graduate Student Spotlight: Matt Connors!

Help us celebrate Matt!

Image of Matt Connors smiling and holding a set of keys in his apartment

TOPS wants to recognize all of the hard work and accomplishments of the upcoming TOPS graduates by hearing about their individual experiences. This time, we had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Connors. Below is the interview with Matt.

What is your name?

Matthew Connors

When did you start TOPS?

August 2019

What was your favorite class at TOPS?

British History

What is one of your favorite memories from TOPS?

My favorite memory was my first day going to a college class, when I never thought I would be able to go to college!

How was your overall experience with TOPS? Was it fun, hard, exciting?

I thought TOPS was very fun. I met new people and had new experiences that I didn’t think I would ever have because of my problems with reading and writing. I am very grateful to TOPS.

What will you miss most about college?

I will miss my teachers a lot because they helped me so much. They helped me with my schoolwork and helped me to decide about jobs and to get a job.

What was your favorite thing about college?

My favorite thing was going to new classes and learning things that I didn’t know. I liked meeting new people.

What job do you have now?

I am working full-time at Ohio State Harding Hospital as a Nutrition Aide.

What is your dream job?

I would like to do food preparation or cook.

If you could describe college in one word, what would it be?


Congratulations Matt! We wish you the best!

Upcoming Graduate Student Spotlight: Connor Silverman!

Help us celebrate Connor!

TOPS wants to recognize all of the hard work and accomplishments of the upcoming TOPS graduates by hearing about their individual experiences. This time, we had the pleasure of speaking with Connor Silverman. Below is the interview with Connor.

What is your name?

My name is Connor Silverman and I’m from Hudson, Ohio. I am a very hard-working and passionate buckeye. I am in my last year and will be graduating on May 8th.

When did you start TOPS?

I started TOPS in August of 2018.

What was your favorite class at TOPS?

My favorite class would be KNSISM 4245 Sport Leadership and Programming last year. I really loved learning about what makes a great team and leader in the Focus 3’s from Tim Knight, Urban Meyer. I liked the “Get Better Mindset”, “Focused Energy”, “Win the Moment”, and “You’ve Been Trained for This” videos. We also discussed a few different forms of leadership like servant leadership, transformational leadership, group leadership dynamics. I would say that I really strive to win the moment everyday. My leadership skills through life are improving everyday.

What is one of your favorite memories from TOPS?

My favorite memories are everything: classes, jobs, internships, sport orgs, social outings, meeting new people, football Saturdays in the packed horseshoe.

How was your overall experience with TOPS? Was it fun, hard, exciting?

My overall experience was really great with all of the jobs, internships, and classes that I did. All of the people that I met too.

What will you miss most about college?

I’ll miss the social interactions and going to many places on campus

What was your favorite thing about college?

My favorite things are first, all of the classes that I took and everything that I learned from them so I can apply it to daily life. My favorite things are second, the internships and jobs at different places and learn new job skills. My favorite things are third, all of the student organizations that will help you with regards to my interest. My favorite things are fourth, the campus community and all of Ohio coming together on football Saturdays to support the buckeyes.

What job do you have now?

Well to answer this the best way possible, I have a paid internship at Value City Arena. I have worked since June of 2021. I really love it because of the people, and you have the opportunity to interact with the other employees. I also get additional shifts, pay for events like concerts, hockey, basketball too. I will be getting a job offer from the supervisor later this month.

What is your dream job?

My dream job is working with in the department of athletics at The Ohio State University and what I am doing that right now at Value City Arena. I will be getting a job offer soon from the supervisor.

If you could describe college in one word, what would it be?

Very fun, academics to internships, jobs to football.

Congratulations Connor! We are so proud of you!

On Top of the World: Meet Austin!


More than anything, Austin Shirk wanted to be a Buckeye.

Austin putting a sterilization rack back on the belt in Central Sterile Supplyl

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.


REMINDER: SIL Leadership Academy Application

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 lgold@sil-oh.orgThe 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.

Ian Danielsen, Longwood University – Programs for Students With Disabilities


Portrait of Ian Danielsen, Assistant Professor at Longwood University. Ian is wearing a blue button up shirt with an orange tie and a plaid blazer.

Ian Danielsen, Assistant Professor at Longwood University

Ian Danielsen, assistant professor of social work, discusses programs designed to help those with disabilities get the education they need in the Academic Minute Podcast for Inside Higher Ed.

Assistant Professor Ian Danielsen earned his Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1992. He then worked for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice for nearly ten years in an intensive treatment program for sexually reactive youths.  He then worked for almost four years as a Clinician for a private agency providing residential treatment services for sexually reactive adolescent boys in foster care.

He began serving as the Director of the Greater Richmond SCAN Children’s Advocacy Center in June of 2006. Serving also as an adjunct faculty instructor for the VCU School of Social Work from 2009 to 2016, Ian has coordinated several important projects including earning Accreditation from the National Children’s Alliance, forming new multidisciplinary child abuse teams, and engaging in statewide legislative advocacy efforts.

Ian was honored to be a 2011 recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award and a 2012 awardee of the Commonwealth of Virginia Governor’s Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect. He also serves on the Virginia Bar Association’s Commission on the Needs of Children. He was also named an honoree of the “Unsung Hero” award for victim advocacy in April 2020 by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General.

Ian accepted a faculty position in Longwood University’s Social Work Program in 2016.  Shortly thereafter, he joined a steering committee to form “The Longwood LIFE” Program, a post-secondary education program at Longwood for young adults who have intellectual disabilities.

Discussing Programs for Students With Disabilities


Transcript of the Academic Minute Podcast with Ian Danielsen

Increasingly across the U.S., colleges and universities are establishing programs for young adult students with intellectual disabilities and students on the Autism spectrum. In Virginia alone, there are at least three such post-secondary programs active in state universities, with some collaboration among them. 

While programs vary in style, structure, and cost, they are all rooted in a value system of inclusion and accessibility.  The growth of programs nationally reflects a collective recognition that the vast and deep resources of universities can be of great benefit students with intellectual disabilities, both academically and vocationally.

Colleges and universities are often seen as microcosms of larger society; they represent a training ground for students to practice skills for future independent living.  It therefore follows that if students with disabilities gain access to this setting of supported semi-independent living, then their competencies for greater independence will grow as well.

Some university programs include students with disabilities in pre-existing non-degree courses, on a sort of “audit” basis, tailoring the students’ course loads to their academic and career interests. Others provide more individualized instruction, offering courses in social skills, daily living skills, and skills for development of healthy relationships, as well as tailor-made coursework in economics, physical education, music, and theatre.

We have studied the ways in which our program has benefited students and found genuine growth in their life skills and vocational readiness. My research focus is in the benefits to other university students, faculty, staff, and parents, as we have seen time and time again that inclusion enhances and lifts the culture of the university as a whole, our mutually beneficial experiences supporting the personal and professional growth of us all.

SOURCE: https://academicminute.org/2020/07/ian-danielsen-longwood-university-programs-for-students-with-disabilities/

Access Thy Academic Center

calendar on iPad

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