The Mason Learning into Future Environments (LIFE) Program is a supportive academic university experience that offers a four year postsecondary curriculum of study to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who begin the program between 18-23 years of age.
The Mason LIFE program has a dual mission. The first is to educate students with IDD through programming in academics, employment, residential living, and social life as these areas target the inclusion of Mason LIFE students in all aspects of the university. The second is to be an apprenticeship for other GMU students with a hands-on opportunity to work with individuals with disabilities. This experience of learning, working, and living together mutually benefits all individuals and is the basis for the Mason LIFE Program.
As a postsecondary unit for students with intellectual disabilities that began in 2002, many changes have occurred nationally and locally that have positively impacted our program. Most recently, a movement to provide evidence based practices to provide clear support for the attendance of postsecondary programs has been implemented. Demonstration of effective practices and research is conducted throughout the program’s components of Academic, Residential Housing, Employment, Exploration, and Mental Health. There are approximately 100 support staff and 54 students with IDD. Our staff and students are representative of George Mason University which is very diverse in respect to culture and racial identity. Specifically, our students comprise of 18% African American, 3% Asian, 3% Hispanic, 7% Middle Eastern, 5% Bi-racial, and 64% Caucasian. Our students are 50% male and female. Locally our students come from Virginia (66% in-state), Maryland, and the District of Columbia as well as other states (33% students out-of-state) such as Alabama, California, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Two-thirds of the students participate in the residential housing component of the program, living both on and off campus. Of our support staff, 26% are in the Masters of Special Education program while the rest are undergraduates from human services disciplines. Upon graduation, at least 5% of our undergraduates continue on to apply to graduate studies in the field of Special Education.
Students completing their four years with the Mason LIFE Program will graduate with a George Mason Certificate of Completion with a catalog concentration and a work specialty area. As a federally approved Comprehensive Transition Postsecondary program, the Mason LIFE Program is mandated to promote inclusive opportunities by having Mason LIFE students participate in catalog classes. Per the student’s Person Centered Planning Meeting, programs of study are developed with the Mason LIFE students to participate or audit in catalog or special topics classes. A support staff attends the class with the student and the student is also enrolled in a two hour support class for additional assistance. It is this process that creates the catalog concentrations. Another importance aspect of the certificate is the work specialty area. Most students are placed on-campus with a support staff member in their first year and gradually they have the opportunity to explore off campus placements. It is through these experiences that students begin to cluster skills to form the work specialty area.
In addition, Mason LIFE students are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities such as student government, student led organizations, intermural clubs, and sports. Generally 80% of Mason LIFE student body is integrated into student life and are viewed by all as integral members of the Mason Nation. As such all the rights and campus privileges are bestowed upon Mason LIFE students to includes access to all facilities and services. From the moment the students begin their education with the Freshman Convocation to the CEHD Graduation Ceremony, the Mason LIFE students are Patriots of George Mason University.
Who are Mason LIFE Students?
Since the Mason LIFE program is a non-categorical inclusive model, our current students vary greatly in terms of their abilities and disabilities. Most Mason LIFE students have cognitive challenges such as Down syndrome, autism, or traumatic brain injury. They may experience sensory or mobility impairments as well. Our students behave appropriately for university learning and have the desire to be in a social but academically supported setting.
Mason LIFE students have a great deal of freedom on campus, and our expectation is that they will negotiate transitions between classrooms and buildings, meals, and non-academic activities independently and unsupervised after initial orientation training. The George Mason University campus is a large, diverse and open campus. While the Mason LIFE Program offers a large support staff to include roles which assist in the classroom, employment settings, and residential units as well as volunteers, there will be times when students are unsupervised on campus and in their housing units. Therefore, a basic level of independence, self-sufficiency, understanding of personal safety and openness to learning is expected for a student to be part of the Mason LIFE Program.
Students typically apply to the Mason LIFE Program because they desire to:
- Take specially designed courses that will help increase reading, writing, math, technology, independent living, and vocational skills
- Learn more about themselves and the world around
- Become part of the social fabric within a university environment