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College of Education

  • CarolinaLIFE participants smile at the camera amidst signs and pamphlets about the program.

CarolinaLIFE creates opportunities for students with disabilities to mentor their peers about personal and professional goals

CarolinaLIFE is a postsecondary education program for students with disabilities in the College of Education. CarolinaLIFE has partnered with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD) to provide peer mentorship for high school students with disabilities across the state about their options for postsecondary education and training. This partnership is called the College Access and Preparation program, or CAP.

The College Access and Preparation program competitively hires current CarolinaLIFE students as program ambassadors. They receive extensive training on leadership, disability issues, and public speaking. Ambassadors go into school districts to speak broadly to students with disabilities about the many pathways that exist after college. They then work with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to determine their level of interest in postsecondary education programs specific to this population of students, like CarolinaLIFE.

“The goal of this program is to have youth with disabilities leading conversations and guiding their peers in their own college search,” said CarolinaLIFE Director and Research Assistant Professor, Chelsea Stinnett, Ph.D. “The best mentor in this scenario is one who has successfully navigated identifying and pursuing college options. This is especially true for individuals with disabilities, who are in need of mentorship and guidance from others with disabilities.”

The College Access and Preparation program has had a far-reaching impact on the state, and is especially appealing for secondary transition teachers. Charlie Walters, CAP Program Coordinator and second-year special education Ph.D. student at the University of South Carolina, has experienced this potential impact firsthand. "While teachers supporting young adults with disabilities know how critical it is to ensure their students leave high school with a clear path forward for meeting their personal and professional goals, it's simply not something they should be expected to facilitate on their own. They need the support of the entire community to help ensure that students with IEPs leave school to live fulfilling, self-directed lives. When communities come together with teachers in this way, anything is possible."

For CarolinaLIFE students, CAP provides an opportunity for students to experience and demonstrate leadership in the classroom. Riley Lewis, a senior and second-year Ambassador says, “Being a CAP Ambassador has contributed to my personal development as a leader by allowing me to be in a classroom and get the feel of teaching kids. It also helped with my personal development by learning to share leadership with others.”

“CAP is a win-win for CarolinaLIFE, the University of South Carolina, SCVRD, and the state of South Carolina. Mentorship is a point of emphasis in our UofSC culture. We’re not just promoting CarolinaLIFE, but all five postsecondary education programs in the state. We would like to lead the way in promoting disability peer mentorship in this setting and SCVRD obviously sees the value in continuing to provide this support to their consumers,” said Stinnett. 

If you would like more information regarding CarolinaLIFE College Access and Preparation, please contact project coordinator, Charlie Walters at

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