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WSU ROAR program welcomes inaugural class

Barrio and ROAR students gather in front of a water feature in downtown Pullman.
ROAR program welcomes its inaugural cohort of students this fall.

By Todd Mordhorst, Office of the Provost

Washington State University’s Responsibility, Opportunity, Advocacy and Respect program is welcoming its inaugural cohort of five students this fall.

The two-year program, better known as ROAR, indirectly came out of the Provost’s Leadership Academy. It offers students with intellectual or developmental disabilities individualized programs of study in education, social skills and vocational training.

Brenda Barrio, interim director of ROAR, hatched the idea for the program years ago, but her time in the Provost’s Leadership Academy (PLA) in 2016-17 helped make the innovative program a reality.

“In the PLA I learned how to navigate the system, lead and build a consensus,” Barrio said.

That consensus was key to launching ROAR, which Barrio hustled to get off the ground this fall. The initial program costs were covered by donors, but ROAR is on schedule to be self-sustaining in the years to come.

Applications opened in April, and the enthusiastic students arrived last month. The five ROAR students live on campus, audit classes and take specialized workshops, training seminars and career development courses. They also visit Barrio’s office often to check in and share their progress.

“Our students are really making a big leap, especially living on their own for the first time,” said Barrio, who is serving as interim director or ROAR while the program seeks a permanent director. “They’re really excited and very grateful for the opportunities. They’re enjoying auditing classes, and the faculty working with them have been amazing.”

ROAR students also are taking on internships in their respective areas of interest. Barrio learned that setting up the internship component required relationship-building, and she’s thrilled with the way the community has embraced the students.

Eventually the program will support 10 students and even further embody the land-grant mission of access and opportunity.

The ROAR program is the seventh college program of its kind in the country, establishing WSU as a leader in serving developmentally disabled students.

Barrio is particularly proud of the program. She developed a passion for working with developmentally disabled students during her undergraduate days at the University of North Texas. Barrio volunteered for a therapeutic riding program and loved working with the enthusiastic students. She earned her Ph.D. in Special Education at North Texas joined the College of Education faculty in 2013.

Barrio was nominated for the PLA in 2016, and at the kickoff retreat she quickly developed a network of colleagues that encouraged her to fully embrace her vision for ROAR.

“The Provost’s Leadership Academy provides much more than most professional development opportunities,” she says. “It really provides the strategies and tools, but also the human contact. Just being in the room with other faculty and staff from around WSU gave me a totally new perspective, and connections that I never had before.”

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