EAGLES soar to independence through Auburn University’s transition program

Published: October 09, 2019
Updated: October 11, 2019
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It has been more than a year since Auburn’s first class of EAGLES arrived on campus, and in that time the program has soared to such success that an additional two-year advanced program is now being planned for next fall. EAGLES, or Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success, is Auburn’s comprehensive transition program for students with intellectual disabilities.

“This will really give those students who qualify, the opportunity to have a full, four-year college experience,” said EAGLES Director Betty Patten. “We are so excited to continue to grow this program and serve our EAGLES students.”  

To continue its momentum, the program is hosting a one-day fundraising campaign—the $20K in a Day Challenge.

For the 24-hour period beginning at noon on Oct. 15, the EAGLES program will seek to raise much-needed funds and get a larger community involved in supporting Auburn’s program. The $20,000 raised through this challenge would be enough to cover the cost of a student’s housing for two years, pay for health and wellness trainings for all students or provide a family with a substantial scholarship. Any gift of any size will be matched dollar-for-dollar until the program reaches the $20,000 goal. Gifts can be made at aub.ie/givetoeagles

“By offering students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to attend Auburn and have a full college experience, we are providing hope to many families who were unsure what life would be like for their young adults after high school,” Patten said. “Last year, Auburn welcomed its first student with Down syndrome. We want to welcome many more firsts to campus for years to come.”

In 2018, EAGLES welcomed three students to campus. In the fall of 2019, the program welcomed five new students.

One of those students was Quin Thomas, a third generation Auburn student who had a lifelong dream of attending college at the same university as his grandfather.

“I have loved Auburn for over 15 years,” he said.

To say Thomas grew up as an Auburn Tiger would be an understatement, but he has an intellectual disability that he feared would keep him from being a student at his beloved university. Fortunately, his aunt—also an Auburn graduate—found out about the EAGLES program, which would become the door Thomas needed to open to make his dreams come true.

“Auburn has always been Quin’s heart,” said his mother, Stacy Breeden. “He never thought he’d have the opportunity to be an Auburn Man, like his beloved Papa. This is a dream come true for him and everyone who loves him.”

The two- and four-year EAGLES programs provide a postsecondary education opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities to engage in a residential campus experience. And, the programs are helping the students—and their parents—learn about independence.

Thomas, who grew up in Wisconsin, is thriving at Auburn, despite the distance from home.

“Quin is doing great,” Breeden said. “This program has given him a real chance to be a leader, and I think he’s really relishing that role.” 

In fact, he is enjoying it so much that Breeden said he wants to live in Auburn when the program ends.

“My hope for him is a job experience where he can support himself and total independent living,” Breeden said. “The curriculum supports that. It’s always a great feeling when your child is so happy, safe and working hard. He’s putting his heart and soul into this program. He’s truly treasuring this experience.”

Thomas echoes his mother’s comments.

“I love it here,” he said. “Auburn and the EAGLES program have given me a refresher on life and I’m in a place I love, so I’m happier.”

Happiness seems to be a common thread among the student participants and their families.

“Every time we talk on the phone, he seems happy and proud,” said Julie Murberger, whose son, Kyle, is in the program. “Talking with him after the Auburn win against Oregon, he was so excited to go to Toomer’s Corner to celebrate just like every other Auburn student.”

Immersing the EAGLES students into college life—“just like every other Auburn student”—is a cornerstone of the program.

Patten said the students are encouraged to participate in campus activities and are partnered with student mentors—called WINGS, or Warmhearted Individual Nurturing Great Success. WINGS peer mentors reside with EAGLES students, support independent living skills, participate in activities with EAGLES students, provide opportunities for connections to other students and support EAGLES students in social and community environments.

“Our WINGS peer mentors are integral to the success of the EAGLES program,” Patten said. “They provide support to the EAGLES as they learn about living on their own and finding their way on a college campus. They are a huge part of making sure the EAGLES are included in campus events and other social activities.” 

For Murberger, the structure of the program helped ease some of her fears about her son being away from home and on his own.

“We are very comfortable that the EAGLES program has the right balance between keeping an eye on Kyle and letting him develop as an individual,” she said.

Like Thomas, this experience is a dream come true for Kyle.

“It has always been his dream to attend college,” Murberger said. “I think he is committed to making it work. We are confident that with the individualized and focused support he is receiving, he will succeed.”

Patten said the success of the current students has paved the way to grow the program with an additional two-year offering. 

Patten said she is preparing to interview for the third cohort of EAGLES, who will begin in the fall of 2020, and that more details about the four-year program expansion will be available in the spring.

“We are all just so excited to see the EAGLES soar to new heights and include EAGLES as a part of the Auburn Family for many generations to come,” she said.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.