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The College Experience

Ontario ARC student Kris Ruppersberger to graduate on Sunday

Kristopher Ruppersberger, like many seniors this week, is getting excited for graduation. With his final exams behind him, he’s patiently awaiting the arrival of his cap and gown for the big day. And he’s a little nervous about walking across the stage in front of so many people.

But Ruppersberger is no ordinary Commencement-bound student. He’s the first student to complete the ARC College Experience program at Hobart and William Smith, and this Sunday, he’ll be the first student in that program to walk across the stage during HWS graduation.

“I never thought this would happen,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to know what college is like, and now I do. My family is very proud of me, but my mom’s a little nervous-I’m her first son to graduate from college.”

The Ontario ARC College Experience program allows students with developmental disabilities, like Ruppersberger, to become active and involved members of the campus community, attending classes, clubs and athletic events while improving social and communication skills.

“This program grew out of our conversations with families who wanted their developmentally disabled children to have access to more life experiences and skills,” says Wendy Nelson, community opportunities manager with Ontario ARC.

“The College Experience program is part of the natural progression of life that many of us take for granted,” she continues. “Kris completed high school, and he moved on to college to work on the skills that will help him be successful in adult life.”

Ruppersberger’s college experience began about two years ago when he decided he wanted to try something new. “I wanted a change of scenery,” he explains. “I was living with my parents and working in a factory, but I didn’t like it. Factory work was not for me.”

With help from the Ontario ARC, Ruppersberger moved into an ARC-sponsored group home in Geneva and enrolled in the College Experience program. “I’ve had a lot of fun hanging out on the Quad, meeting other students and going to classes.”

His favorite courses have been those that focus on other cultures, like Modern Japan.  “Their culture is so different from ours,” says Ruppersberger. “It was great to be able to learn about their culture and traditions even though I don’t speak the language.”

The College Experience program also allowed him to participate in several internships in offices across campus and explore different career options, which Nelson says is a key component of the program. Over the past two years, Ruppersberger has worked in Human Resources, Campus Safety, the Café and the Great Hall of Saga while exploring what he enjoys and where his skills will be most useful.

In addition to class and community-based learning, the students enrolled in the ARC College Experience program spend several hours each day in an ARC classroom on campus, enhancing important life skills, like using computers, money management and self-advocacy.

“This program is an important part of our Geneva Partnership as we strive to create a welcoming and inclusive environment where all students can grow and excel to their full potential,” says Colleges President Mark D. Gearan. “I will be proud to shake Kris’ hand as he walks across the Commencement stage on Sunday afternoon.”

“I am surprised at the number of friends I’ve made here,” says Ruppersberger, who counts Gearan among them. “When I first got to HWS, I was so shy, and I didn’t know anyone. Now I know almost everyone on this campus!”

This Sunday, when he walks across the stage in front of Coxe Hall and officially completes the College Experience program, Ruppersberger will put factory work behind him for good and set out to explore some new career options.

“Now that I’ve finished the program, I will have an opportunity to do something I love: work in an office environment,” Ruppersberger explains. “I’m excited but nervous, too. I am looking forward to continuing the relationships I have built on campus and getting a job doing something I really enjoy.”