USC Aiken’s Pacer LIFE program gives students with intellectual disabilities the full college experience | Aiken Area Education

USC Aiken’s newly implemented Pacer LIFE program celebrated its first group of 16 student participants Aug. 24.

Pacer LIFE (Learning is For Everyone) is a two-year, post-secondary program at the university that serves students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, providing academic and social inclusion and gainful employment skills.

Pacer LIFE participants moved into the Pacer Commons dorm building on Aug. 17 and spent time getting acclimated to the college environment and creating future goals for themselves. Thursday’s event allowed them to share these future goals with their families.

“The point of our Pacer LIFE celebration today is the students are going to share their goals that they’ve created,” said Program Director Dr. Melissa Martin. “So our motto in Pacer LIFE is ‘actually, I can’; actually I can go to college, actually I can get a job, actually I can live independently.”

Particpants’ goals ranged from learning to drive or cook to getting a job at Disney World or becoming an actor. “Actually, I can work with animals,” said one participant, Lizzy Cottington. “I love animals.”

In the Pacer LIFE program, participants are able to learn basic life and work skills. “Our students take at least one credit of USCA coursework per semester,” said Martin. “This year they’re taking Pacer 101, which is essentially college 101. And then students take a series of Pacer LIFE classes. That’s how we teach them about life skills.”

Skills taught in these classes include cooking, cleaning and money management. During their first semester as a Pacer LIFE student, participants get an on-campus job; during the following semesters, they get a job within the community. Students live in the Pacer Commons dorms with the support of a Life Resident Assistant.

At the end of the two-year program, student participants will receive an employment credential.

“The Pacer LIFE program is about bringing the students to school, giving them a chance to be a normal college kid and socialize, but also get them a credential so they’re more likely to get a job after they graduate,” said Life Resident Assistant Emily Bohman. “It’s great. It’s really fun, and it’s nice to see them come out of their shell and make friends.”

According to Martin, only 2 percent of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities get a job after leaving high school, and of those, 18 percent make less than $11,000 each year.

“These types of programs are needed so that they can have additional training to learn how to live independently and get a job,” she said.

For information about this program, email Martin at 

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