Summer academy for students who are blind coming to Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry announced a partnership Thursday that will relocate a unique three-week summer camp for the blind and visually impaired to University Park for the next five years.

"Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Enhancing Independence Skills for Students Transitioning to Post-Secondary Education" comes to Centre County from the place it originated, the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown.

Officials from the College of Education, the College of Health and Human Development, the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation's Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (OVR) and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) gathered in the Krause Innovation Studio in Chambers Building for the announcement.

"We are so looking forward to having the academy here," said Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity at Penn State. "We think it's going to be a wonderful opportunity for us. I look at it and think about the different students that it's going to bring on campus and give our students opportunities."

The summer academy is a program for blind or visually impaired students who are transitioning to a college setting. The three-week experience will be held July 13 to Aug. 1 at no cost to qualifying students. Those who participate will focus on daily living activities, travel skills, self-advocacy and networking skills, career awareness, social skills and enhancing access technology skills. Students will live in a Penn State dormitory, sharing a room with another student. As many as 20 rehabilitation and human services students from the College of Education will work with summer academy students as chaperones.

“That’s really what we're talking about, making real-life practical connections and skill development for students so that they succeed. We want them to succeed. We want them to transition into a job eventually and have gainful employment and be valued in the community,” said Steve Suroviec, the executive director of OVR.

“It's also a win, I think, for the general student body of Penn State. Having, seeing and making friends with and having the opportunity to engage and become friends with and value people with disabilities is such a big deal to me and I think when it comes right down to it Penn State's student body at large is going to be a winner here.”

Carol Mackel, director of the OVR’s Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown, said she felt that the new partnership was the logical step for the summer academy. “Penn State is just a natural next level progression and it's going to be a great experience for the students and for all of you. I believe that you will provide an opportunity to have this wonderful program move forward,” she said.

That's certainly a goal of the College of Education said Jim Herbert, professor of education and program coordinator for the undergraduate program in rehabilitation and human services.

"I hope we can build on the foundation they created because I've been to their program on two occasions and I know it was a super program," he said.

Suroviec agreed, stating, “As the director of OVR I can’t' tell you how important it is to have partnerships and collaboration with our partners. We have a great relationship with Penn State University mainly because of the master's program they have for rehabilitation counseling. And so when this opportunity really presented itself to collaborate on the Summer Academy it just seemed like a natural progression.”

But mostly there was the talk of change and progress for students entering a college environment and the benefits of the Summer Academy. David DeNotaris, the director of the OVR Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, focused on what this partnership means for the students and what they will get out of the program. He mentioned that hopefully for students this means learning about access, transportation, daily living and literacy.

“This program is to help people prepare for college. But really what we're doing is we're preparing people to go to work. We desire to inspire people to be the best that they can be,” said DeNotaris.

Luiz Fontanez, a graduate student in the College of Education's rehabilitation counseling master's program, once worked at the Summer Academy. He will play an instrumental role this summer, as well. He said he was a "living, breathing example of what can be accomplished through OVR rehabilitation." He seemed like the perfect candidate to tout the Summer Academy's value and efficacy.

"In my personal opinion, I believe that the summer academy is the single greatest program to come online in the Commonwealth for blind or visually impaired youth in transition. These young men and women will have the perfect opportunity because they get to be part of those ABCs David DeNotaris just spoke of," Fontanez said. "If it wasn't for the Summer Academy, I would not know how valuable these tools are to my life here at Penn State as a graduate student."

For more information about the Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired, contact Shelly Faust-Jones in Pennsylvania's Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services at 717-787-5735 or sfaustione@pa.gov.

Last Updated April 14, 2014