UNT’s ELEVAR program earns Star Award for 2023

Tuesday, November 28, 2023 - 08:15

DENTON (UNT), Texas ­ — The University of North Texas is being recognized for its ELEVAR program by earning the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 2023 Star Award. The Star Award recognizes higher education institutions that contribute toward the board’s “Building a Talent Strong Texas” initiative.

UNT ELEVAR (Empower, Learn, Excel, enVision, Advance, Rise) is an inclusive post-secondary education program for students with intellectual disabilities. It is the first of its kind at a Hispanic-Serving Institution in the country. It also one of the most inclusive postsecondary programs in the country according to the Think College Coordinating Center.

Students attend UNT for four years and take both traditional zero credit college courses in disciplines that align with their career goals along with ELEVAR specific courses in financial literacy, life skills and health education.

“ELEVAR has been very helpful for me,” Alex Bartolo, an ELEVAR student, said. “All my classes are enjoyable and my instructors have good feedback.”

“They have every right that a degree-seeking student has, and we make sure they are treated as such. ELEVAR is removing barriers for these students and giving them a true college experience that could lead to future employment in competitive settings,” ELEVAR co-founder and assistant vice president for research and innovation Brenda Barrio said.

The program is currently in its third year serving a total of 22 students. The second and third cohorts live on UNT’s campus, while the first cohort is living off campus.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” Barrio said. “UNT has been such a welcoming and inclusive environment for ELEVAR and its students.”

Along with classes, ELEVAR students are given a personalized plan which takes into account a student’s goals, dreams, where they want to live after graduation and their support system. The plan then guides students toward classes and internships that help further their aspirations.

“I might move to Florida or California to work at Disney or Universal Studios,” Bartolo said. “My dream would be to be an announcer for the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade.”

Bartolo currently takes media arts courses and interns with UNT’s Brand Strategy & Communications’ photo and video team.

Barrio says all of ELEVAR’s students from the first two cohorts are employed in paid internships on and off campus that earn above minimum wage. Students in the third cohort will begin their internships in the spring after taking a semester to adjust to college life.

ELEVAR also empowers its students to advocate for themselves. A student recently met with aides of members of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. sharing her experience as a student in ELEVAR.

“It’s a joy to see how much they grow as they get more involved on and off campus,” Barrio said. “We get to see the community grow with them as professors and other students become more aware of how to be more inclusive.”

Due to the program’s success, Barrio said other higher education institutions have reached out to UNT for guidance in establishing similar programs. High school students with intellectual disabilities, along with their teachers, visit UNT once a semester to learn more about UNT and the program. ELEVAR also hosts open houses for interested families and potential students.

“These families get really excited because they see that their student can pursue higher education and get the support they need to succeed. Something that a few years ago was unknown or unheard of for individuals with intellectual disability but UNT and other programs across the nation are making it possible.”

Bartolo is looking ahead to the future.

“I’ve made many good friends in my classes. I can’t wait to see what the next semester brings.”

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

Media Contacts:

Amanda Lyons