“Life is a journey, be prepared for the trip”: Destination Dawgs Brings Inclusive College Opportunities to University of Georgia

Six years ago, inclusive college was in the news thanks to a viral video of Jordan Huffman’s acceptance into the first University of Georgia (UGA) Destination Dawgs cohort in 2016. The video depicts Huffman in his room playing drums when he receives and reads aloud his acceptance letter to Destination Dawgs at UGA.

Housed in the Institute on Human Development and Disability (IHDD) at UGA, Destination Dawgs offers college options for students with intellectual disabilities in Athens, Georgia. Known as inclusive post secondary education (IPSE), inclusive college like Destination Dawgs is gaining in popularity throughout the state–and the country. There are now 314 IPSE programs in the U.S. with eight (soon to be nine) in Georgia.

Destination Dawgs is a two-year college program with four semesters and a prerequisite Summer Leadership Institute. During the Summer Leadership Institute, students experience campus activities, eat in campus dining halls, and ride UGA buses. They have the opportunity to meet and talk to current UGA students and peer mentors. Peer mentors lead participants in activities that emphasize goal setting and leadership development. Students completing the Summer Leadership Institute receive invitations to apply to the two-year program. Upon completion of Destination Dawgs, students receive a UGA Certificate in College and Career Readiness from the UGA Center on Continuing Education. Since their first graduating class in 2018, there have been 15 Destination Dawgs graduates. This fall, the program will have a total of nine students.

“[Destination Dawgs] allows youth with intellectual disabilities to be part of the UGA campus, to take classes, to gain social and independent living skills, to make friends, and just to be part of the Bulldog Nation,” said Carol Britton Laws, Ph.D., Director, Destination Dawgs. “Students who are part of the Destination Dawgs program will come away with the skills they need for a good adult life.”

Destination Dawgs is open to students with intellectual disabilities ages 18-25 with the personal desire, and family support, to gain skills for self-determination, independent living, and career development. Students must have completed high school and display the emotional and independent living skills necessary to participate in coursework and campus life.

Destination Dawgs uses person-centered planning to facilitate goal setting and to track progress across five areas: Career Development and Employment, Academic Enrichment, Campus & Community Engagement, Building Independence, and Self-Determination.

The Destination Dawgs academic program is inclusive, meaning that students take foundational courses and courses that support each student’s personal career goals alongside all UGA students who may or may not have IDD. Work- based experiential learning is another program pillar, requiring students to spend a minimum of three semesters participating in paid or unpaid internships.

Adult white man wearing cowboy hat smiling
Howard Wyatt Martin, May 2022 Graduate

“I am currently working at Fort Yargo State Park. I’m a Ranger, and I was connected through the program at Twin Lakes where I did my internship in the spring. I was taking classes at UGA at Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources through Destination Dawgs.”

—Howard Wyatt Martin, May 2022 UGA Destination Dawgs Graduate

Destination Dawgs aims for students to have the same experiences as all UGA undergraduates. Peer mentors help students identify campus activities they’d like to join, balance academic and social life, and make friendships. Students build independence through participation in campus service activities and student organizations, health and wellness seminars, workshops, and counseling. Students direct their own daily schedules, learn to navigate the UGA bus system, and eat lunch daily with peer mentors.

Destination Dawgs peer mentors are fellow UGA students who volunteer to help students with academic support, such as library navigation and study partners, and health and wellness support, such as dining companions and exercise buddies. Peer mentors may also help students with social support by attending social activities or community service projects together. Peer mentors may also provide support for building independence by assisting with meal preparation and financial management.

Destination Dawgs is a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program (CTP) which allows students with intellectual disabilities at institutes of higher learning to access federal financial aid, such as the PELL grant.

Applications for fall 2023 admissions will open in mid-fall for invited Summer Leadership Institute alumni. Applications for the 2023 prerequisite Summer Leadership Institute will open this winter. For more information on UGA’s Destination Dawgs, visit FCS.UGA.edu/IHDD/Destination-Dawgs.