First UMSL SUCCEED graduates

UMSL’s first cohort of SUCCEED students graduated from the program in May. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Deborah Baldini believes higher education offers transformative experiences.

“Education changes lives,” she said. “It changes families and it changes communities. I’m a strong believer that education can be a powerful tool for change.”

With faith in hand, Baldini has used her expertise and passion to introduce a wide variety of educational initiatives to UMSL. Standing out among programs like the Audio Recording Certificate, Write Stuff and the Foreign Language Connection, the SUCCEED program provides avenues for positive change in the UMSL and St. Louis communities.

SUCCEED is a two-year postsecondary program where students with intellectual and developmental disabilities can develop the skills necessary to become participating members of their community through inclusion in university classrooms and campus life.

Deborah Baldini, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication and SUCCEED founder

Deborah Baldini, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and SUCCEED founder, pioneers innovative programs at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Launched in 2013, SUCCEED has annually supported approximately 30 students in their work toward confidence and autonomy. And in an effort to highlight role models for students, SUCCEED has invited Temple Grandin, a nationally acclaimed professor of animal science, best-selling author and autism activist, to speak as part of the Hellen and Will Carpenter Series on Contemporary Issues in American Society.

Baldini describes Grandin as “one of the most accomplished and well-known adults with autism in the world. She broke through labels and has accomplished so much in her life. Our students really admire her.”

Baldini hopes to expand and enhance SUCCEED in the coming years and reach more students who seek higher education as a means to independence. She has carefully considered plans for the program’s growth. UMSL Daily recently caught up with her for the latest information.

How does SUCCEED reduce barriers and diversify learning environments?

SUCCEED students are UMSL students first. We recruit high school students who are highly motivated to go to college and we create opportunities for them to be successful academically, vocationally and socially. SUCCEED students live on campus, take classes and engage in all aspects of campus life. This offers many opportunities for students to build relationships with others that may result in long-lasting friendships.

Developing a vocational path is important to all college students. How does the SUCCEED program assist students in moving forward toward vocational goals?

SUCCEED students participate in at least three vocational experiences during the two-year program. These can be paid or unpaid internships both on campus and in the community. A vocational experience offers the opportunity for increases in independence and self-determination.

Working with the coordinator of vocational experiences, SUCCEED students identify a vocational site that interests them, and through the experience, they acquire new skills. The experience may also help students determine that the job they so badly wanted isn’t a good fit. We believe this is a critical part of self-determination and naturally leads students to important questions about their futures: “What else would I want to do? Where do I see myself? How am I going to get ready for the job I’d like?”

What’s next for the SUCCEED program?

In five years, we hope that SUCCEED will become a model for similar programs at other colleges.

And we hope to become a center for research. There’s a real need for research on the benefits of postsecondary education for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, methods to improve postsecondary education and methods for effecting change in broader ways. This is a whole new field of study.

Finally, we’d like to continue to build partnerships with employers in the area and we hope to facilitate training in diversity awareness and inclusion for employers. Overall, SUCCEED has achieved positive strides in a short period of time, and there’s more work to be done for our students and community.


Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin will speak on Oct. 30 at the Touhill at UMSL.

Temple Grandin will present her lecture “Beyond Labels: Perspectives on Educational Opportunities” at the Touhill Performing Arts Center’s Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30.

Free and open to the public, Grandin’s lecture will highlight the benefits of educational opportunities for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, noting common challenges along with the triumphs individuals are capable of achieving.

More information on UMSL’s SUCCEED program can be found here.

The UMSL Experience

Ron Austin

Ron Austin