Lipscomb’s new IDEAL program is equipping students with intellectual disabilities with the skills needed for successful employment. 

The two-year certificate program combines general education classes with core classes in technology and employment skills to prepare students for the work place.

“Ultimately, my goal is to have students that graduate from this program that are able to find meaningful, paid employment,” said Mallory Whitmore, the program director.

The IDEAL (Igniting the Dream of Education and Access at Lipscomb) program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, became a part of Lipscomb in June 2013. Dr. Candace McQueen, the dean of Lipscomb’s College of Education, and Dr. Misty Vetter, the faculty advisor for the program, wrote a proposal for the program to present before the Council, and it was approved mid-summer.

IDEAL logo IDEAL students began their Lipscomb education in January with the start of the spring semester. The program currently has three students enrolled, and Whitmore says she hopes to see a total of 10 enrolled in the fall.

The students will be taking two IDEAL classes every semester, as well as auditing two undergraduate courses and participating in an internship.

Whitmore, who works with the Best Buddies organization in Nashville, said she is excited about the opportunities this program will provide for students, as well as how the program will grow in the future.

“I would like to see our program inspire more and more high school students with disabilities to think of college as an option,” Whitmore said.

“I would [also] like to get more professors involved. One of our components is that students audit two classes a semester. Right now, it’s been a process of us approaching professors, and I would love to see professors coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, I have this great class, and I think my students could benefit from the perspective of these IDEAL students.’”

Whitmore joined the IDEAL staff in August, when she was hired to be the program director. The period between program approval in June and the start of classes in January moved quickly, but Whitmore said it has been a rewarding experience.

“When I started this job in August, I picked out a verse that I really wanted to use as a north star to guide this work,” Whitmore said. “It is Isaiah 42:16: ‘I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.’

“It’s been amazing to see, in the week and a half they’ve been on campus, that the Lord really is moving in the lives of these students and is moving in the culture of this campus [and] creating level ground.”

The program currently has 25 peer mentors, who are Lipscomb students who volunteer their time to hang-out with IDEAL students.

Cynthia Medley, the program assistant, acts as the liaison between IDEAL students and the peer mentors, helping to coordinate schedules and plan activities. Medley says the goal of having peer mentors is to have undergraduate Lipscomb students that IDEAL students can build relationships with.

“A peer mentor is a traditional Lipscomb student that works with one of our students,” Medley said. “We call them ‘Bison Buddies.’

“They work-out with our students, they eat lunch with our IDEAL students, they go to chapel with them, they help them with their homework and study with them, and then, they just hang out with them and help them get acquainted with the Lipscomb campus.”

Medley said she believes that the Christian atmosphere of Lipscomb’s campus has helped with the development of the program and the acceptance of IDEAL students on campus.

“These students that we have in our program, they are so excited to be here, and this is such a great opportunity for them,” Medley said. “I think it just helps boost the morale around campus because they put a smile on anyone’s face that they meet.”

Alex Banks, a sophomore from Hendersonville, Tenn., volunteers as a peer mentor for the IDEAL program. Banks said the opportunity to serve as a peer mentor gives her a different perspective on life.

“Being with all of the kids in the program is so great,” Banks said. “Being able to look past their disabilities and see the sweet joy in their hearts is something that blesses me every day when I see them.”

The Lady Bisons basketball player serves a unique role among the “Bison Buddies,” as her older brother A.T. Banks is one of the three IDEAL students enrolled this spring. Banks says the program has made a huge impact on her family, and it is great to see A.T. involved with Lipscomb students.

“It will definitely be a big adjustment for my parents to have to drive [A.T] to Lipscomb each morning and afternoon,” Banks said. “But, in the end, it’s all worth it to see how much he is growing from this opportunity.”

Top photo courtesy of Mallory Whitmore

Logo photo courtesy of

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