Dr. Thomas Neuville is the Faculty Adviser for Integrated Studies, Disabilities Studies Advisor, and professorial educator at Millersville University. He runs many programs to combat the stigma and segregation that inflict people with disabilities. He does this through the sophomore block course Applied Foundations of Contemporary Special Education for Special Education/Early Education, the Disability Film Festival, but most directly with Integrated Studies, where people who in the past would never have gained a credible diploma, get a skillset and certification.
The influence on Integrated studies began for Dr. Neuville because of his constant questioning throughout his life. He wondered why certain people around him were not getting jobs and having lives. His first recollection was when he was in elementary school and one of his friends, who he believes now had a learning disability of some sort, always was estranged from everyone else. They were great friends, but whereas Dr. Thomas Neuville was allowed to go to high school his friend never was allowed to come with. Again and again, he encountered more people throughout his life who were not being allowed to have one of their own. He started investing his career in trying to help them out and went through many job transitions in that pursuit. He was helping people getting out of institutions, mostly in Colorado, with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, being transportation therapist, the owner of a group home, and so on. Yet, he always noticed that these supplementary methods were not changing all that much, the people he was trying to help get jobs and have a life of their own only kept going through cycles of hiring and firing and ending back at the group homes he ran.
He continued in efforts and along the way built many relationships with the people he worked with, from skiing to just hanging out in bars. He knew these people could have lives, but they were still heavily ostracized A revelation came to him when he came across the work of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, Social Role Valorization. This concept explained why devalued groups were separated from the rest of society and how to give supports to reverse those circumstances or preventing them from happening in fir place. Thereafter, Dr. Neuville came up with the idea to start an integration program at the university, because as he explained, “A University is a petri dish of a community.”
He and some others, including Jan Bechtal the current Director of Integrated Studies, gave the proposal for Integrated Studies, originally called Career and Life Studies to the department’s future disapproval, and began the program. The department would give a student with intellectual or learning disabilities an education and a portfolio that designate all their skills and education. Dr. Neuvile commented about how the goal of the Integrated was to give job skills to these students and when it came to the purpose of the certification he stated, “I said we would not give out a certificate if it wasn’t meaningful, it was backed by a credential from governmental or accredited body.” In essence, the portfolio mirrored that of the bachelor’s degree all Millersville students hope to graduate with.
Moreover, a historic ceremony took place, and as of Tuesday students graduating from Integrated Studies no longer receive portfolios, but authentic certificates signed by the president of Millersville University himself. The last students that graduated from Integrated Studies returned to receive their college and set a precedent.
Looking towards the future, Dr. Neuville hopes to take the Integrated Studies program beyond Millersville and to more national level. If you were to ask him about the significance of what the university has done with Integrated Studies he would say, “Because there are 16 people this semester who are attending Millersville University, who, when I started college, would have been living in an institution. That’s significant.”
Integration and inclusion is a major initiative of Millersville University and is becoming part of the policy of campus, and hopefully one that may start blooming beyond the college campus. Dr. Neuville plans to make this clear, whether it be with Integrated Student or to the many teacher candidates that come to his classes, as well as through the Disability Film Festival. After all, as Dr. Neuville has stated, “A University is a petri dish of a community.”