On May 2, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA)’s TU CASA program celebrated its first cohort of graduates at a Graduating Class of 2022 Celebration in Patriots’ Casa. Five students completed the program, including Gabriella Eady, Yxaiah Gomez, Nicolas Lopez, Alezandro Mauricio, and Dylan Salazar. With family and friends in attendance, these remarkable students received their University and Career Experience Certificates. In addition, they were honored with special graduation stoles, recognizing their accomplishments, to wear at the Texas A&M-San Antonio Commencement ceremony the following day.
Guest speakers included TU CASA Program Director Veronica Kallead, A&M-San Antonio President Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Assistant Professor of Special Education and Principal Investigator Dr. Mariya Davis, Success Coach Lauren Huerta, and TU CASA graduate Alezandro Mauricio.
“I am grateful to be here to share this special moment with our students and their family and friends. You have worked hard over the last 18 months and you were dedicated to your program,” said Teniente-Matson. “You are the role models and took advantage of every opportunity presented to you, which is what college is all about and you have had that same experience. It has been so exciting to be a part of your journey.”
“For the last three semesters, these students have endured a lot of adjustments and they were able to adapt to whatever was presented to them. Their determination and resilience will lead them to face any challenge and conquer it with the best of their abilities,” said Huerta.
The TU CASA model is designed to allow students with intellectual disabilities to receive a true university experience while gaining the skills and knowledge needed to transition to independent adult lives. TU CASA’s mission is to offer a fully inclusive experience by providing students with access and opportunity to the same services, programs, and courses as other Texas A&M University students. Each TU CASA student’s university experience is individually designed to reflect their interests, preferences, and future goals. This individualized approach supports inclusive academic, employment, and independent-living experiences leading to meaningful, integrated employment and overall improved adulthood outcomes. Students who participate in the 1.5 year-long program earn a University and Career Experience Certificate and receive a career pathway for integrated employment and the development of independent living skills through a person-centered approach.
TU CASA is based on pre-established partnerships between A&M-SA, Burleson School for Innovation and Education, and South Bexar County Partnership to Impact Regional Equity (ASPIRE) districts (East Central, Edgewood, Harlandale, Somerset, South San Antonio, Southside, and Southwest) to address educational and service needs and focus on decreasing the gaps in services for individuals with intellectual disabilities across South Bexar County and South San Antonio.
“A few years ago, we had a lengthy conversation with the superintendent of South Side ISD about a need for a program like this and how we could co-create something used across the ASPIRE network, using Burleson as the anchor and model,” said Matson.
TU CASA is currently working with Burleson to continue the students’ pathway into A&M-SA, building on the post high-school knowledge and skills gained at Burleson and expanding the skills through the integration of inclusive academic, non-academic, and work-based experiences. The close relationship between Burleson and A&M-SA allows the TU CASA program to build on foundational life skills training, enhance career preparation through training and internship activities, introduce students with intellectual disabilities to college courses, and enhance overall social skills.
On May 21, the first graduates of the TU CASA program walked the stage along with fellow A&M-SA graduates during the Commencement ceremony for the College of Education and Human Development and College of Business. These five extraordinary students will forever be a part of the history of Texas A&M-San Antonio as the very first graduating class of A&M-SA’s innovative TU CASA program.