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Good News Friday!



Isabelle Woloson made many headlines in May of 2021 after graduating from University of Northern Colorado (UNC), becoming the first woman with Down syndrome to cross UNC’s stage and complete a four year program. Made possible by Senator Hickenlooper’s signing into law (back in 2016) of Senate 16-196 – Inclusive Higher Education Pilot Program – people like Isabelle now have more opportunities when pursuing higher education.

“When I was in Middle School, I knew that I wanted to attend college,” said Isabelle. After graduating high school, Isabelle toured three colleges – two in Colorado and one in Florida. “I chose UNC because I wanted to explore my home state (Colorado) more, and I also really liked the community there,” she said.

Before and during her college career, Isabelle accepted support and guidance from IN!, a nonprofit that advocates and creates pathways for students with developmental disabilities to thrive in higher education. IN! was founded in 2014, and played a large role in getting Senate 16-196 passed in 2016.

In addition to IN!’s support, UNC hosts a Disability Resource Center (DRC) in the library to give students with disabilities a space where they can ask for help specific to their needs. “It’s a good place to learn how to speak up for yourself,” said Isabelle, “They helped me manage the homework, stress, and all responsibilities on my plate.” When appropriate, the DRC also offers students with disabilities an option to modify their homework/assignments on an as needed basis. For example, instead of presenting for their class in person, professors may allow a student to record their presentation on their own time and then the class watches the recording. This modification supports students who may get too overwhelmed or over stimulated when presenting in front of people. 

Isabelle took advantage of her time at UNC and worked hard to find a subject and career field that spoke to her. “At first, I was interested in theater and signed up for a drama class right away,” said Isabelle. This field didn’t excite her as much as she thought it would, so she kept on looking. Realizing that she likes to help people, she took a Health and Wellness course with the possibility of becoming a nurse in mind. “But while taking this course,” says Isabelle, “I noticed that I want to talk to people and ask how they’re doing, understand what’s going on in their minds, and help them with life.” Realizing this, Isabelle signed up for a Psychology class, and that’s when she knew she was on to something.

As Isabelle walked across that stage last year, not only was she graduating, she was also walking closer to her desired career path: Life Coach. “I want to help parents who have children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and support them with insight and resources so that they know what options and opportunities they have when they get older.” Isabelle recently completed a nine month Life Coach training course and is currently finishing up a second training course. “I hope to have a small website for my business up and running this coming summer,” she said. Along with building a foundation for her future, Isabelle holds a part time job at a bakery in Boulder.

When asking Isabelle what she took away the most from her college experience, she lit up with a smile and shared her insights without skipping a beat. “I learned how to manage stress,” she said. “It was hard finding time for myself and I learned how to manage my time better.” She also learned how to ask for help, “Don’t feel like you need to do it on your own,” said Isabelle when asked what tips she would give to students with disabilities thinking about college, “Do the best you can, and people are there for support when you need it.”

College is more than a list of classes or a piece of paper that says you’ve graduated. It’s an experience, an experience that teaches young adults how to engage and interact in certain environments, around certain people. It’s a firehose of activities, socializing, events, responsibilities, all to shape one’s sense of independence and purpose. “I found a new way to live my life. Without college, then I wouldn’t have the purpose to live in my apartment,” said Isabelle. “I learned how to be responsible for myself and others.”

We are inspired by Isabelle’s story and look forward to hearing about all of the wonderful work she will do as a Life Coach. Nice work, Isabelle!

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