Jeanne Kessler has been director of Student Services at Washburn University for the last 17 years and has been at Washburn for 34 years. She is assisted in the department by Kim Sturgeon, senior administrative assistant.
Sturgeon has been working in the Student Services office for 13 years and helps disabled students receive their services. Although Kessler is one of the busiest people on campus, she took time to discuss how Student Services helps disabled students succeed at Washburn.
According to Kessler, one of the biggest challenges for an incoming disabled student transitioning from high school to college are differences in the laws between what high schools and colleges are required to provide as accommodations.
While in high school, students with disabilities are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which insures students receive free, appropriate services while obtaining a public education. Once students transition to college, the services are determined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Students right out of high school may not be able to advocate for themselves, and often are accompanied by a parent, guardian or other representative at the first meeting,” said Kessler.
She recommends any disabled student considering college check out the physical layout of the campus to get a firsthand look at how it is for them and their particular challenge. One visit may not be enough for the student to determine if the campus is right for them, so Kessler encourages students to make several visits.
Formerly housed in Morgan Hall, Student Services is now located in the upper level of the Union in the Mosiman room during the construction.
“[It’s a] challenge to provide good quality service in a temporary location, but the Union has been very kind in allowing us to use these rooms that are normally used for events and meetings,” said Kessler. “Our budget has been frozen for years but our expenses have not. For example, postage increases, changes in technology, the cost of printing tests. All of these costs are covered by Student Services.”
In addition, Kessler also acts as liaison between students and instructors. Sometimes a student will ask for an accommodation that an instructor may not agree with. In these instances, Kessler discusses the disability with the instructor and acts as an educator, improving understanding among the faculty regarding what qualifies as a disability and how the accommodations help to assist with specific needs a student has.
Once in a while an accommodation may be considered controversial and end up in the legal department for re-examination. This can happen if a student makes statements indicating they are going to pursue an action against the university or involve the Civil Liberties Union regarding an accommodation that may have been challenged, or if an accommodation may be viewed as inappropriate for a course, such as consideration for absences in a lab-based class.
If this occurs, all students that have the same or similar accommodations will be notified that the accommodation is being reviewed and upon a final decision, the accommodation may or may not be given.
The goal, however, is to provide reasonable accommodations to help all disabled students be successful. Kessler works with legal to help determine how the student’s accommodations can best be served.
For example, if a student utilizes the testing accommodations, Kessler’s office is responsible for contacting the instructor to ensure the test is available and in the correct format for the student.
Student Services must provide a distraction free environment for testing if requested. They also provide a laptop for the student to type out tests, or any other assistive technology the student may require.
Once the exam has been completed, there are a number of options the instructor can choose in order to get the test back. Some ask for it to be delivered, some pick the test up and some have it emailed. Whatever the mode is, there is a protocol for each method to ensure success for students. Students are also involved in this effort as they are required to make an appointment for the exam within a minimum of five days before the test is given.
Student Services offers many services to help each individual succeed. Whatever a student needs, Kessler and Sturgeon work to provide the student with all the tools available to help them suceed at Washburn.
“My heart is so filled when I see my students walk across the stage and get their diploma—even just seeing their personal growth is rewarding,” said Sturgeon.
Student Services are open from 8 a.m. to noon. and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.