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Eagles take the field during University of Massachusetts game

EAGLES students were recognized on-field at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 2, highlighting the program’s recent award from the Down Syndrome Congress during the 2023 Big Game Ball event.

Auburn’s EAGLES students were honored on the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium at halftime during Auburn’s victory over the University of Massachusetts on Saturday.

They were recognized for receiving a prestigious award at this year's Big Game Ball, hosted at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta and sponsored by the National Down Syndrome Congress. The Big Game Ball honors postsecondary programs serving those with intellectual disabilities and individuals and organizations advancing opportunities for those with Down syndrome to attend postsecondary inclusive education programs.

At the heart of the recognition, Auburn’s Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success, or EAGLES, program has received is the fact that it is changing lives and creating opportunities for students.

This fall, the EAGLES program is asking for help to make the Auburn dream a reality for even more students through a crowdfunding initiative aimed at offsetting the costs students and families incur.

Since its beginning in 2018, the EAGLES program has welcomed students to campus by providing an inclusive postsecondary experience that encompasses academics and independent living. Three students comprised the first EAGLES cohort, and today, 27 students are enrolled in the program.

But even more students with intellectual disabilities are seeking access to higher education, and specifically, access to Auburn. The Auburn Family’s generosity can help provide this access so that even more students can have the unique Auburn experience.

“The program has seen extensive growth over time, and that’s because of the support of the Auburn Family,” said Betty Patten, assistant clinical professor and Jay and Susie Gogue Endowed Director of the EAGLES program. “We grow at the rate of the generosity of our donors.”

The fees charged for the program go directly to hiring staff that support each student holistically, from academics to daily living, health and wellness, personal and social skills and more. Whereas a traditional student may learn things more passively, the EAGLES program teaches all the things that intertwine to help make a student successful explicitly, meaning the students require much more support from staff members. 

With a new class of first-year students, the goal of the crowdfunding initiative is to ensure that every EAGLES student with financial need can complete the basic program.

“Our goal is student-focused and student-driven,” Patten said. “We’re raising funds for direct student support to fill the gaps and help students complete the program they started.”

EAGLES students will benefit directly from donations to the crowdfunding initiative in multiple ways. Most directly, the financial support will help them finish the program, allowing them to gain confidence by completing what they started, but they also will learn marketable job skills to access meaningful employment.

Graduating from the EAGLES program leads to an increased quality of life. Students who finish the program are 75% more likely to find purpose-driven work, or a job that aligns with their skill sets, strengths and interests.

The EAGLES program has become the unofficial heart of campus and traditional students are among the program’s strongest supporters. They embrace and champion EAGLES students, ushering in a more inclusive campus where the value of students with disabilities is recognized in the knowledge that everyone has something to contribute to our society.

“Typically, students with intellectual disabilities are not always given opportunities to succeed,” said Patten. “But in our program, EAGLES students are shattering barriers across campus. They are challenging people’s perceptions of those who have unique learning styles, and the more our students are included with their college peers, the better chance they have to be hired to work among them.”

Students with intellectual disabilities experience inclusion in K-12 schools, and now more opportunities like the EAGLES program are opening doors for them to be included in higher education.

“Ultimately, this will make the world a place where everyone belongs, and everyone can contribute,” Patten said. “That’s what we’re doing at Auburn.”

Anyone interested in helping make the EAGLES program accessible to even more students during this unique crowdfunding opportunity can do so online.

Soaring with the EAGLES

We are raising funds to increase the number of students with intellectual disabilities who can attend Auburn through the EAGLES program. Thanks to a generous donor, all gifts received will be matched, up to $50,000.

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