Oasis program receives grant

Emani Burton, Staff writer

Mercyhurst’s continuing education program for adult special needs students, Oasis, has secured a $60,000 grant under the new Program Director, Jim Conroy.

The grant money will help the Oasis staff provide housing accommodations to students.  The Oasis program, currently in its fourth consecutive year,  has undergone several changes. Despite a new director, new course offerings and new students, the program retains its original mission: to offer adult students with intellectual or developmental disabilities certifications and job training.

“We want to help students gain employment and develop skills they will need later in life,” Conroy said.

Despite sometimes being confused with the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst program, Oasis is considered a much different “ball game.”

“The AIM program is great, but we serve different students and reach a different population. Our students are not degree seeking, our focus is primarily workforce preparedness,” Conroy said.

Oasis offers students the choice of three non-degree certificate programs, which include Culinary Arts, Hospitality and most recently, Early Childhood Development.

“It’s really popular,” Conroy said of the newest certificate option.

“A lot of parents, teachers and students are excited about it.”

Oasis takes one academic year to complete, beginning in the fall semester. Students audit classes from the certification program of their choice, while receiving individualized “tutorial” sessions designed to enhance life skills.

“We are committed to quality instruction,” Conroy said.

He believes his graduate studies degree in Special Education will help him lead the program in the future.

The $60,000 grant comes from the Dreams Realized through Educational Aspiration Model Partnership, a recognized Central Pennsylvania organization that advocates for college students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Conroy hopes the grant will enable Oasis to reach beyond the Erie/North East location.

“The residential opportunity is a good option for students who live away from the area,” Conroy said.

Oasis staff and faculty have wasted no time putting the grant to use. The first residential Oasis student is currently living in Neumann Hall on the North East campus.

Conroy is already reaching beyond the Erie area, focusing on the several transition opportunities designed to help intellectually and developmentally disabled families find the right path for the student.

“In the past, we couldn’t draw students too far beyond Erie County because many rely on public transportation, family and friends to get them to campus,” Conroy said.

“Now that they have the residential option, students can focus on their education.”

Oasis has five students enrolled this year, two of whom are specializing in Early Childhood Development.