CUW, Bethesda pioneer program for those with disabilities

By Roger Drinnon

Dr. Wanda Routier knew of a great need to provide higher education for people with intellectual and learning disabilities, autism, Down syndrome and myriad other conditions. Now, she helps them achieve higher learning through a pioneering education program.

Members of the inaugural class of the Bethesda College of Applied Learning at CUW are, from left, Rachel Hoffmann, Christopher Brandt, Alec Shafer, Mary Cate Neff, Claire Chalupka and Kristen Van Handel. (Terri Breese/Bethesda Lutheran Communities)

Members of the inaugural class of the Bethesda College of Applied Learning at CUW are, from left, Rachel Hoffmann, Christopher Brandt, Alec Shafer, Mary Cate Neff, Claire Chalupka and Kristen Van Handel. (Terri Breese/Bethesda Lutheran Communities)

Routier, Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) assistant professor and director of graduate Special Education Programs, leads Bethesda College of Applied Learning at CUW (or Bethesda College), a groundbreaking program for students with disabilities, which culminates a partnership between CUW and Bethesda Lutheran Communities. Six students began their first classes Aug. 25 at CUW’s Mequon campus.

“There is a great need because this population of students typically cannot meet the normal college-entrance requirements,” said Routier, who has more than 20 years of special-education experience. “Bethesda Lutheran Communities approached CUW around three years ago about partnering to create a post-secondary college program for students with intellectual and other significant disabilities.”

Bethesda Lutheran Communities is a nonprofit organization based in Watertown, Wis., that serves people with developmental disabilities, with programs in 14 states.

“For 110 years, Bethesda Lutheran Communities has been dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through services that share the Good News of Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Dr. Jack Preus, executive vice-president for Mission Advancement, Bethesda Lutheran Communities. “During that time, we listened to people with disabilities, and not surprisingly, they told us that they dreamed about going to college, and that they aspired to have a meaningful career. So, we began to work to meet this emerging need.”

The resulting two-year program, Bethesda College, provides a credential for its graduates to demonstrate to employers that they have additional education and experiences beyond grades K-12, with identified skills and job experience, according to Routier.

Mary Cate Neff opens the door to her new dorm room for herself and her mother, Elizabeth Neff. (Terri Breese/Bethesda Lutheran Communities)

Mary Cate Neff opens the door to her new dorm room for herself and her mother, Elizabeth Neff. (Terri Breese/ Bethesda Lutheran Communities)

“The real value of the program will be that it prepares the students for competence in their chosen careers,” said Preus. “With its emphasis on academic, career preparation, adult-living skills, campus and community life, and job-coaching and internships, the graduates will be ready for post-certification employment.”

“The partnership forged between CUW and Bethesda to offer this program represents the best of the Concordia University System” (CUS), said the Rev. Dr. Paul Philp, director of CUS Institutional Research and Integrity. “This program seeks to provide opportunities for both Bethesda-enrolled students and the Concordia students who will be able to interact and learn with them. A Christ-centered approach to ‘Life Together’ is at the heart of this new program, which will be of great blessing to all involved and to the Church at-large.”

“I applaud the Bethesda and CUW communities for this creative and innovative response to an unmet need of men and women with developmental disabilities,” said the Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of LCMS Mercy Operations. “It provides them an opportunity to engage the fuller university community in a Lutheran Christian environment, making mutually beneficial contributions that would otherwise be left untapped, with both students and educators learning important life perspectives and skills that will change their lives in service to Jesus and their neighbor. May our Lord richly bless this program.”

Plans to expand Bethesda College throughout the Concordia University System are in place, and Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich., will begin recruiting its first class of people with developmental disabilities in 2015, according to a CUW/Bethesda Lutheran Communities press release.

For more information, email Bethesda College Program Director Carol Burns at carol.burns@cuw.edu, or call 847-224-0637.

Roger Drinnon is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.

Posted Aug. 29, 2014

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One Response to CUW, Bethesda pioneer program for those with disabilities

  1. Luanne Veale September 1, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    This is wonderful. I worked for Bethesda twice in my earlier years as a deaconess. It is a wonderful place!

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