Major Grant Fuels PASSAGE USA Expansion

Posted on October 8, 2020
Joy Washington

New grant money will allow the PASSAGE USA program to expand, including offering a new four-year option for students. data-lightbox='featured'
New grant money will allow the PASSAGE USA program to expand, including offering a new four-year option for students.

 The College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of South Alabama has been awarded a $2.3 million U. S. Department of Education grant to expand its PASSAGE USA program, which assists students with intellectual disabilities.

PASSAGE USA (Preparing All Students Socially and Academically for Gainful Employment) is currently a two-year, non-degree certificate program that focuses on independent living, social, employment, and self-determination skills. Students in the program attend elective classes with other USA students as well as specialized classes that target the skills they need to achieve their goals. With the new grant funding, PASSAGE USA intends to provide a four-year program option and include additional academic areas of emphasis, advanced instruction, and experience in developing independent living and employment skills.

“This program will now be new and improved,” said Dr. Abigail Baxter, professor of education and the principal investigator of the PASSAGE USA grant. “We are going to have more program options, and we are planning to have a four-year program where the students will do general academic work and then focus on an academic area in their last two years. Those academic areas of emphasis will include areas such as interdisciplinary studies, health and wellness, and hospitality and tourism management.”

The expanded program will draw in faculty and students from counseling and occupational therapy to refine the PASSAGE curriculum, and allow Baxter to hire additional staff. The two-year option will still be available, and the program will grow to serve up to 60 students during the grant funding period.

“The new team members will include USA faculty in special education, counseling, and occupational therapy, who serve as principal and co-principal investigators on this expansion grant,” Baxter said. “Also included are faculty from the health, kinesiology, and sport; hospitality and tourism management; and integrative studies.”

The principal and co-principal investigators are:


·       Dr. Shelley Holden, principal investigator, health, kinesiology, and sport.

·       Dr. Paige Vittuli, principal investigator, integrative studies.

·       Dr. Linda Reeves, co-principal, leadership and teacher education.

·       Dr. Tara Thompson, co-principal, occupational therapy.

·       Dr. Yvette Getch, co-principal, counseling and instructional sciences.


In addition, Dr. Robert Thompson, chair, hospitality and tourism management, will work on curriculum development.

Another important component of the program will be a summer camp experience at USA for high school students with intellectual disabilities.

“Students who are thinking about the program will be able to spend a few days on the USA campus,” Baxter said. “This on-campus living experience will allow them to get some information that can help them prepare for PASSAGE USA while they are still in high school. We have cooperation from every public school district in Mobile County.

Baxter is also pleased that faculty and students in counseling and occupational therapy will partner with them to conduct assessments, offer coaching and assist the students.

“We are working with occupational therapy and counseling in the College of Education and Professional Studies to allow for these students majoring in those areas to work with PASSAGE USA students, and get first-hand experience working with this population,” Baxter explained. “PASSAGE USA students will benefit as well.”

PASSAGE USA partners include the University of South Alabama, Mobile County Public School System, Chickasaw City Schools, Saraland City Schools, Satsuma City Schools, and the South Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment.

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