But there were questions to be answered and models to create. Who would pay for it? Where would the students live? Would they be considered enrolled students at UNCG? How do you grade them? How would these students be given the support they needed while teaching them how to live on their own? Most importantly, would it succeed?
They started with eight students, including Demario.
After high school, he'd been living at home in Winston-Salem, volunteering with the basketball team at his high school. Another volunteer, Rusty, who now works for Beyond Academics, told him about the program.
I thought I would give it a try and see what happens, Demario says, sitting at a table in Elliott University Center with Eric Marshburn, director of admissions for BA. Throughout the conversation, Demario fingers his Blackberry, checking and responding to messages.
I count him as much of a developer as any staff, Eric says. When we started they all had individual classes. Students didn't like that. Now underclassmen have group classes, while the upperclassmen receive more individualized lessons.
And he advocated for us to hire more male staff and more African-American staff," Eric says, which they've done.
It's not enough to have a good idea. It requires thoughtful implementation.
Here's how it works. Students who are accepted into the BA program go through a substantial application process. In addition to the applicant answering questions such as "how do you want your life to look in the next five years, guardians complete a skills assessment form.
A personal interview is also held to see how committed both students and guardians are to the program. Those who are accepted have mild to moderate disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or autism.
The ultimate goal is to leave the program able to live a more independent, fulfilling life. That starts with learning to live away from families and learning to live without a support person around the clock.
Students in the program typically begin by living in nearby student apartments with other college students. They go to classes during the day and in the evening a campus and community support (CCS) person comes by to hang out. In the early part of the program, CCS students come by frequently to help cook dinner, watch TV or take the BA students to the mall or maybe a basketball game. They help the BA students practice social skills.
We don't live with them but we're nearby and on call, Joan says.
BA students pursue an Integrative Community Studies certificate, which is offered through the Office of Undergraduate Studies. Their classes are ones that would probably benefit most freshmen: nutrition, healthy lifestyles, building personal relationships, conflict resolution, advocacy, home management, budgeting, transportation, community inclusion and career development.
The courses start simply and grow more complex as they progress. Students are graded based on participation, attendance and progress with goals. To graduate, students must have a 2.0 GPA and 120 credit hours.
The students also pursue areas of independent study related to their own personal goals and put together a post-graduation career portfolio. Finally, they are able to audit regular UNCG courses with department permission.
It's a lot to take in. Just this past year, Beyond Academics started a 6-week summer seminar to help freshmen adjust to campus.
It's a huge leap for them, Joan says. We learned they spend their first semester getting acclimated to being away from home. You can have all kinds of assessment information coming in but you can't know how they're going to react until they get in the setting.
Jeff Piegari and Steffanie Lewis make the weekly shopping trip to buy groceries.
Jeff Piegari loves to talk. The Beyond Academics sophomore already knows what he wants to do when he graduates move to New York or the West Coast or Hollywood and get a job on the radio and TV."
He's off to a good start. During school breaks, he has a radio show on WUAG where he plays the old standards. You know, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin.
Tony Bennett, he makes me want to sing, Jeff enthuses. Sometimes I sing on the air.
As a New Jersey native, he made one of the biggest moves to come to the BA program. Everyone else in the program is from North Carolina. His parents now live in Greensboro as well. They discovered the BA program through a site called thinkcollege.net.
Coming to college in the South wasn't the easiest thing to do. I was scared, Jeff says. I missed the good old times in New Jersey. But now I feel happy and excited.
And he still keeps in touch with his old friends and he calls his grandmother every day. I told her yesterday it was Chuck Berry's birthday.
He happily notes that he's met Emeril and Bobby Flay. And he's interested in anyone in entertainment you might know. He's always thinking about getting interviews for the radio.
In the meantime, he plays percussion with the Greensboro Philharmonia and audits an introduction to early childhood education class at Guilford Technical Community College on Mondays and Wednesdays. In the spring, he'll take the class so he can teach children about music.
Demario has his passions as well. When he talks about sports, his face grows animated. Electronics, too.
In his junior year, he was accepted into the associate's degree program at GTCC for entertainment technology concurrent with the BA program. I'm interested in electronics, video games, maybe Best Buy, he says.
For this last year, he's continuing something he began his first year at UNCG working with the men's basketball team. I usually like football, he says dryly. But I went to my second choice.
On a November afternoon, Demario sits by the scoreboard, watching the basketball managers play a serious game of two on two. He's keeping score. His Blackberry buzzes and he can't resist checking his email.
What's the best part of working with the team? Hanging out with the guys," he says.
He first started with the team when Kyle Hines was dominating the competition in late 2007. He considers the highlight of his time behind the bench the day they retired Kyle's jersey. Fleming Gym was filled with a sea of gold shirts and people cheering.
Demario decided to keep on with basketball. On game days, Demario sits behind the bench, ready to give out water and towels during the timeouts. He's at every practice.
On this day, he gets talked into playing a joke on the managers. He's lost track of the score so he bumps one team up. The score is now 110 to 27. Tickled, he gets up and makes sure the guys check out the score.
Soon after, the team comes out from the locker room and begins warming up. Coach Mike Dement takes a minute to greet Demario and say, We're glad to have him around for a while. He's been valuable for us.