WSU ROAR program takes in five new members

Group offers internships, learning opportunities to students with disabilities



Special education assistant professors Don McMahon, left, and Brenda Barrio, right, relay information about the program April 12 in the Education Addition.

MADYSEN MCLAIN, Evergreen reporter

The Responsibility, Opportunity, Advocacy and Respect program at WSU welcomed five new students this fall to participate in the two-year program.

ROAR is a WSU post-secondary education program specifically for students with intellectual disabilities that cannot traditionally attend a university, but still want to find a career path.

The idea for the program came from co-founders Brenda Barrio and Don McMahon three years ago.

“Our number one goal is for our students to become independent young adults and for them to seek a career, like obtaining a job,” said Barrio, who is also the interim director of ROAR.

Students in the ROAR program audit classes at WSU depending on their career choice, connect with approximately 40 other WSU students who are called “peer allies” and are able to live on campus in the Chinook Village apartments, she said.

Other aspects of the program include weekly advising sessions, workshops, life skills and internships.

“Especially for the WSU campus, we want to make it as inclusive as we can,” Barrio said. “With programs like ROAR we see its impact in a huge way.”

Evan Henniger, a participant in the ROAR program, is interested in sports management and has internships with the Student Recreation Center and the women’s soccer team.

“Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I have sex ed, life skills and swimming conditioning,” he said. “Then Tuesdays and Thursdays I have my internships.”

Katie Hirschfelder, a graduate assistant at ROAR, leads a health and sexual education workshop for ROAR students. She also helps each student with individual advising every Friday to review how their week went.

“I have seen them grow so much,” she said. “They are very independent and they are learning how to function on a college campus. I remember that experience myself so I’m glad that they get to experience it too.”

The online application for next year’s ROAR students will open Nov. 1. The application includes an essay and requires high school documents specific to students with disabilities.

Once the student’s application is reviewed, a committee interviews the students on the WSU campus as well as their parents or guardians.

ROAR is planning on having full cohorts of 10 after this year, Barrio said.

“I want to make sure people understand that we are a fully integrated part of WSU and we have had great support in order to get started,” Barrio said.