We Made It!

The past year has been one filled with the unexpected, and by some accounts, it has been a year of turmoil. But in every crisis, there are huge opportunities. UI REACH rose to the challenge of not just surviving but thriving. Our students did what it took to get through three semesters of masks, social distancing, handwashing, in-person and virtual classes, limited transportation and meal options, no dodgeball and limited Hawkeye sports! We are so very proud of the way they handled themselves on campus. Their growth was evident in so many ways as they adjusted to new norms; learning to do classes, socialize and even have meals in very different ways. Our staff were simply heroic in their efforts to balance time needed by our students and by their own households. They did not miss a beat with teaching, advising, being on call and supporting our students in so many other ways despite the threats that the pandemic brought. Our campus and community partners stood firmly beside us by providing internships and new experiences to the benefit and growth of our students. Our alumni engaged with us in different ways including joining us for online classes and earning new credentials. And although we are all just a bit Zoom weary, we have emerged better, more skilled, and more aware of the indomitable nature of the human spirit. As we were crafting our new mission statement, we were at the same time living it by daily cultivating supports and opportunities that led to our students’ daily success. Thanks for a great year! Let’s make the coming year even greater.



Bill Loyd
UI REACH Program Director

The Magnificent Seven

UI REACH celebrates seven young adults who completed all course requirements necessary to graduate from the program. On May 7, 2021, we experienced the joy of seeing these students receive their credentials in the presence of proud parents and staff in person, and a host of other family members, friends, colleagues, and well-wishers who witnessed the event via livestream.  As usual, it was a time of smiles, tears, cheers, and elation. Each of our graduates did amazing jobs in their assigned roles in the celebration.  Thanks to special guest speakers: Bruce Harreld, Eric Bush, Cathy Stange and, Daniel Clay for bringing greetings and charging our graduates to continue to pursue their dreams. Thanks are also due to the convocation planning committee (Kelsey Friday, Michael Petkewec,Amy Vander Busard, Jim Verry, Jordan Willits, Danny McGregor Huyer, Sujit Singh, and the staff at the Iowa City Hilton Garden Inn) for making the event memorable.

And now meet the graduates who are all wonderful examples that “Your future is within REACH”!

Top row: Sam Rame, Hailey Mendenhall ,Ryan Sottosanti, Luke Johnson. Bottom row: Mike Vrsantis, Lauren Adam, Emmie Tiemeier

REACH graduates

If you were not able to be present for the event or view the livestream, you can still witness the event through following this video link.  Enjoy! 

History was made with this group of graduates as four of them participated in the university wide celebration at Kinnick Stadium on May 16th with hundreds of other UI graduates. This is just one more way that the University of Iowa demonstrates that it is a community that embraces people of all abilities. 

President Harreld at Kinnick

UI REACH also extends congratulations to our staff and mentors who also graduated this month. Many of them also participated in the celebration at Kinnick Stadium.    

  • Gianna Lindsay Marshall – M.A. ED, Special Education. Marshall will be joining our staff full time this fall!
  • Annie Crooks – Ethics and Public Policy/ Spanish
  • Malaika Kigen – Social Work
  • Talia Aloush – Social Work
  • Emmerson Knapp – Therapeutic Recreation
  • Camryn Miller- Therapeutic Recreation

Alumni Spotlight

Kate in her car.

2020 Graduate has a lot to smile about. Not only is she working a new job and blogging, but Kate Wood recently got her driver’s license! She is checking several goals off of her transition plan list. Congratulations, Kate!

Reflections from Mentor Anne

Note: The following article was written by a person who has served as a UI REACH mentor for multiple years. Offering mentor positions is a way of providing peer supports for our students and valuable work experience in this field for the next generation. We are both grateful for and proud of our mentors!

UI REACH softball event

I first found out about the University of Iowa REACH program from a family friend and alumnus of the program. When I arrived on campus my freshman year, I knew right away that I wanted to get involved, and in January of 2018, I was hired to be a mentor for the UI REACH program. Mentors are student staff members who provide person-centered support for UI REACH students on campus. Today, after working for the UI REACH program for nearly four years, I can confidently say that being a mentor was one of the most impactful experiences of my college career. As a mentor, I had the opportunity to work in many of the different areas encompassed by the program. I worked at nightly events, where I got the chance to build relationships with UI REACH students and help facilitate inclusive and engaging activities.

As a mentor, I was sometimes challenged to step out of my comfort zone and take on new responsibilities. In my first year, I was asked to help a student with visual impairments participate in an American Sign Language club. As someone who didn’t know ASL and had little experience supporting individuals with visual impairments, I was nervous to take on this role. I was challenged to think creatively about how I could support this student. In the end, I was able to work with the student to create supplemental learning materials to assist him in learning ASL with the other students. Although it was challenging at first, participating in the UI REACH club was one of my favorite experiences.

In 2019, I took on a leadership position as a lead mentor, where I helped coordinate and execute touring events for the program. I had the chance to work closely with professional UI REACH staff, manage projects, and oversee activities with UI REACH mentors and students. In this leadership role, I developed my professional skills like communication, formal writing, and project management that I continue to utilize as a student and professional.

During my time as a mentor, I saw myself grow as a leader, thinker, and student. As I take my next steps into the world following my graduation from the University of Iowa, I know that my experiences as a mentor will continue to benefit me as a professional, advocate, and member of my community.

UI REACH ReConnect 2021

Join us for UI REACH ReConnect 2021 at City Park on Saturday, August 14, 2021. The event will feature networking, entertainment, food, fun and games. The registration fee is $20 per person and includes a ReConnect T-shirt. Fees can be paid on the UI REACH website. Meals will be available for purchase or attendees can bring their own picnic basket. Grills are also available in the park. Shelters have been reserved, but guests can also bring their own seating and tent if desired. Alumni, current students, and their families can attend. Persons interested in attending can register online. For more information, please contact the UI REACH office at 319-384-2127.

Strategic Plan Update

After a launch in January 2021 of the new three-year strategic plan, we are making notable progress towards achievement of our goals. The information that follows provides an at-a-glance view of some of the strides we are already making in our four priority areas of stakeholder satisfaction, program awareness, sustainability, and program excellence. Many of our stakeholders will be involved in various stages of implementation. You may be asked to provide feedback, write a blog, participate in recruitment events, introduce us to a new community partner, or participate in a focus group. Thanks in advance for helping UI REACH create a vibrant future.
C=Complete, IP=In progress.

  • Working at Iowa Survey (C)
  • Parent Satisfaction Survey (C)
  • Student Satisfaction Surveys (IP)
  • Customer Service Standards (IP)
  • PCP Implementation (IP)
  • Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey
  • scheduled for summer (IP)
  • Monthly Townhall Meetings (C)

  • Marketing Plan Implementation (IP)
    • Search Engine Optimization
    • Website Migration
    • Blog Blitz
    • Video Revisions
    • Enhanced Social Media Presence
  • Targeted Conference Presentations (IP)
  • Increased Presence in External Networks (IP)

  • Balanced budget for FY 22 (IP)
  • Three new revenue streams in development for FY 22 (IP)
  • Strong Student Retention is Bolstering Enrollment (C)
  • Strong Recruitment and Admissions Results (IP)
  • Continued focus on scholarship capacity (IP)
  • Continued focus on endowment growth (IP)

  • Migration to SalesForce for data management (IP)
  • SOP development based on self-assessment results (IP)
  • Representation on NCC Accreditation Workgroup
  • Student Life Staff Certifications (C)
  • Expanded Quality Framework Capacity (IP)

Future Ready Iowa Grant Results

Future Ready Iowa logo

UI REACH was one of several recipients of a small Future Ready Iowa grant in the last quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021. The goal of the grant was to increase employability of those impacted by the pandemic (reduced hours, unemployment, under employment).

Major training components of the grant included WorkKeys classes as well as certifications in CPR, Coaching, Certificate Retail Customer Service, Business Startup, and Food Handling.

The grant was implemented over a short period (Nov 2020 – May 2021). Funds were received on 12/8/20 and had to be expended by 12/31/20. Our target was 7 students, but we reached 18 Iowans who were either alumni, gap year, or current students. Ten participants acquired new credentials and several others continued studies that will enhance their employability in the long-term. Brian Campbell, Jennifer Cremers, Brett Koenig, and Erica Kaldenberg staffed the grant and were instrumental in producing the amazing results achieved in the project.

UI REACH in the Media

One of the goals in our strategic plan is gaining name recognition for UI REACH. As a part of the strategy to reach that goal, our staff find ways to promote UI REACH in the media. Here are three examples of how our program is being promoted externally.

Eddie at University Scooters

Eddie Grant got a shoutout on Instagram from University Scooters. It is a great compliment to Eddie and the Careers and Transition staff for their tireless efforts in making internship placements successful.

University Scooters on Instagram: “UScoots makes history with our first UI Reach intern, Eddie! Reach is a 2-year program for students with learning disabilities through…”

Sam outside graduation venue.

As reflected in our mission statement and strategic plan, UI REACH aims to continuously build self-advocacy skills in our students. Sam Rame appears in a recent Daily Iowan opinion piece that includes the partnership between UI REACH and the Department of Rehabilitation and Counselor Education with the Academic Life Navigator (ALN) Program as part of Autism Acceptance Month. Sam is a great advocate for himself and for others who have autism. He is pictured here at the Kinnick graduation celebration along with Gianna Marshall.

Our Careers and Transition staff who completed Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP) certification were recognized in an Iowa Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) publication! Congratulations Jennifer, Brian, Michael, Dillon and Bret!

Person Centered Planning (PCP) Update

Students who were enrolled in the past academic year completed their first round of PCP at UI REACH. Last summer, we launched an education series to update staff, students, and families on our PCP initiative. Initial dream sessions were held over the summer of 2020 with each student wherein they outlined their ideas on things they wanted to achieve during the year. For some, it was the first time that they were “in the driver’s seat” in deciding directions for their lives. This is just another way that UI REACH empowers students to advocate for what they want to achieve. Others joined the students in planning meetings in early Fall 2020 to outline strategies and supports for the goals that each student chose. Goals were developed in the areas of independent living, careers, socialization, and academics. Examples of goals included taking traditional classes like scuba diving, music appreciation, and communication in the workplace, joining student organizations, learning to manage money, earning a certificate, and planning an activity for a group of friends, to name a few.  Strategies were implemented in the Fall 2020 semester and reviewed again and revised as needed for spring as the semester came to a close.  Huge thanks to our Therapeutic Recreation interns and mentors who assisted students in implementing goals and documenting their progress. All of our students were able to achieve many of their goals and some completed all of their goals. Staff, mentors, campus partners, parents, and community partners were all a part of the circles of support for these students.  The planning cycle begins this summer for all students who are returning in the fall. Graduating students hosted transition meetings wherein they outlined short and long-term goals for their future. Dream sessions are being held over the summer for all students attending for the first time in Fall 2021, and their circle of support meetings will be held once they settle into campus life this fall. 

Implementation process pictured below: Education. Assessment. Dream Session. Circle of Support Meeting. Strategy Development. Implementation & Data Collection. Reassess & Revise. Goals Achieved.

PCP process



A Fifth Year's Sixth Sense

By. Peter Reilly

FIfth year students

My name is Peter Reilly, and I’ve had the pleasure of being a UI REACH mentor for 5 years. I recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a BBA in Accounting. It’s been an incredible experience to work for UI REACH. Throughout these years, I’ve noticed a common theme among the students; they all change. It’s an incredible metamorphosis that comes in different shapes and sizes. Some students change right when they step on campus, others do it in year 3 / 4. Some students break out of their social shell while others solve math problems believed to be impossible to solve. Such change, no matter how big or small, is an encompassing factor affecting all students for UI REACH. It affects everyone differently, and it’s been a privilege to be a part of so much growth.

Not only has UI REACH helped nurture growth for the students, but for me as well. I started with UI REACH in fall 2016, fresh out of high school. I was a shy, introverted kid who was trying to find my place in the world. As a mentor, I was expected to lead conversations, be an example, and most importantly, be a friend. It took time to gain confidence and to be engaging, but over time I developed these skills, and they became second nature to be used in all aspects of my life. I owe much of this to UI REACH, and the environment it allows for not just students, but also the staff to grow. As one UI REACH graduate once said,” I was a seed, which turned into a tree, and now into a man.” I’ve gotten countless “thank yous” from parents about the work the staff does with the students. Yet no one ever turns around and thanks the parents for allowing the students to be a part of our lives. They provide so much enjoyment, laughter, and strength I have never before witnessed.

Fifth year students at homecoming

One of the greatest examples I can provide would be when I was a sophomore taking Intro to Financial Accounting. I had recently taken a midterm and knew I had bombed it. After such a horrendous experience, all I wanted to do was go home and cry. BUT I had to go to Thursday Night Activity to help out with arts and crafts. Being in a soggy mood, one student came up to me and said, “Turn that frown upside down.” I stared at him for a few seconds and started to laugh, my day instantly turned upside down. Since that day onwards, every student I interacted with provided countless smiles that helped changed my day. With this in mind, I would like to thank every parent who allowed their student to come through UI REACH. They have made an impact on my life I will never forget! Congratulations to all the 2021 graduates, you all will change the world.


UI & UI REACH: Important Dates 2021

Date Event/Activity Time
August 14, 2021 UI REACH ReConnect Event - Iowa City  
August 19, 2021 Option One: Move-In for Year 1 & 2 students
UI Dining Meal Plan begins when student moves in
11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
August 20, 2021

Option Two: Move-In for Year 1 & 2 students UI Dining Meal Plan begins when student moves in

Schedule: TBD
August 21, 2021

UI REACH Orientation begins for Year 1 & 2 students

Option One: Move-In for Year 3, 4, 5 students
UI Dining Meal Plan begins when student moves in
8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
August 22, 2021

Option Two: Move-In for Year 3, 4, 5 students
UI Dining Meal Plan begins when student moves in
Year 1 & 2 UI REACH students Fall Orientation continues

Year 3 & 4 UI REACH students join Fall Orientation

8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
August 23, 2021 UI REACH Student Orientation Part 2
UI classes begin
Schedule: TBD
8:00 a.m.