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MSU Profiles

ASTEP provides opportunity, serves community

For many young adults with intellectual disabilities the prospect of going to college seems like an overwhelming, if not impossible, task. The mission of the Advancing Students Toward Education and Employment Program (ASTEP) at Minot State is to make the seemingly impossible, possible.

ASTEP, a two to three-year postsecondary education program, provides young adults with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to earn a college-to-career certificate. The North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities (NDCPD) at MSU has coordinated the program on campus since 2010.

Currently, seven students are enrolled in the ASTEP program. Students, like Dominic Schaff, take classes, do homework, and live on campus with the assistance of peer mentors.

"They are engaged in campus life," NDCPD project director Amy Armstrong said. "We help them learn independent living skills, like how to use public transportation, or how to do their laundry in the residence hall."

A key component of ASTEP is preparing students for life after they complete the program. Each student is required to do an employment internship every semester.

"We try to match the internship with something they're interested in having as a career someday," Armstrong said. "Our goal is for students to gain skills to become employed."

Schaff works at a local restaurant - a job he admittedly enjoys and hopes to continue in, possibly as a host.

Schaff's first semester with ASTEP has proven fruitful. He audited classes in theatre and public speaking, where he not only made many friends, but discovered an interest in public speaking.

"He's really good about bringing his personal experiences into his speeches," public speaking instructor Angela Schnaible said. "It makes it super relatable to the students in the class."

For his final project in the class, Schaff plans to present a persuasive argument on social media usage.

Many ASTEP students are experiencing living away from home and family for the first time when they start the program.

"When they come to campus it's a whole new experience, and that transition can be difficult," NDCPD coordinator Vanessa Rovig said.

To help with the transition, ASTEP provides students with mentors. Peer mentors assist ASTEP students with day-to-day activities. Jenna Wiltzen, an MSU communication disorders major and peer mentor with ASTEP, assists Schaff with completing his homework and getting ready for work.

"Sometimes we just hangout too, or play basketball," Wiltzen said.

Wiltzen is one of many MSU students who works with ASTEP as part of the practicum component of her degree requirements. ASTEP also has opportunities for students and community members that wish to volunteer with the program as a mentor or job coach.

"We're really an extension to the diversity here at Minot State," Armstrong said. "It really gives students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to see that students with intellectual disabilities can be a part of their community."