Matthew Carrizal ’23 has enjoyed a number of firsts—attending Fish Camp, living independently and learning in a college setting—that other Texas A&M University freshmen have also experienced. However, the Houston native is blazing a trail as one of the first students in Aggie ACHIEVE (Academic Courses in Higher Inclusive Education and Vocational Experiences), an inclusive and immersive four-year residential educational opportunity for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Coordinated through the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Educational Psychology, this program is one of a growing number of similar higher education efforts nationally—and the first of its kind in Texas. The first Aggie cohort of five students has Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy.
Aggie ACHIEVE has enjoyed initial private and corporate financial support through gifts to the Texas A&M Foundation. However, it is experiencing a groundswell of interest from prospective students, which will require additional funding to meet the growing demand.
The first cohort of Aggie ACHIEVE students includes, from left to right, Matthew Carrizal '23, Courtney Osburn '23, Alexis Villarreal '23, Abby Tassin ’23 and Miguel Gonzalez '23.
Aggie ACHIEVE’s foundation was created by the Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed by the federal government in 2008 to create higher education opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “The employment rate for individuals with cognitive impairments is abysmal,” said Dr. Carly Gilson, faculty director of Aggie ACHIEVE and assistant professor of special education, who spearheaded the program. “Without education and work experience, their quality of life is much lower. Programs like Aggie ACHIEVE help improve quality of life for adults with disabilities because they open doors to more social, learning and employment opportunities.”
Aggie ACHIEVE’s rapid two-year creation is due to the expertise and dedication of Gilson, Texas A&M Center on Disability and Development Director Dr. Dan Zhang, and a steering committee composed of many statewide advocates for special needs individuals, including former Texas Representative Vilma Luna. “The willingness of Texas A&M to launch this program will show other universities that this is feasible,” said Luna, whose son, Miguel Gonzalez ’23, is enrolled in the program.