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Unlocking Possibilities: Associate of Applied Science in Pragmatic Studies

"Why doesn't 'no' mean 'no' to you? 'No,' to you, means keep pushing." That is the phrase Dr. Tera Torres heard repeatedly in her childhood from her mother. Little did she know, her mindset would become the driving force behind the Associate of Applied Science in Pragmatic Studies, a two-year program designed for students with learning disabilities who would not thrive in a conventional college setting. The plans to start the program began in 2016.

"When we first started working on this program, this was a very large mountain to climb. Our torches sometimes felt like they were dimming as we ascended, but such is the circumstance when one is blazing the trail," recalls Torres.

Realizing that opportunities for students with learning disabilities were extremely limited, Dr.Torres, the director of the program, decided to apply the mantra "see a need – fill a need."

"Even as a developed society, we are still not providing opportunities to all. When we expect people to do the same thing in the same way, we are failing most people," says Dr. Torres.

Emily Mannko, 25, suffers from debilitating anxiety, and she enrolled in the program. From the outset, she realized this opportunity was like no other she had encountered.

"When I met with the staff at University of St. Thomas—compared to other colleges I had gone to—I just felt a level of support and compassion I had not found anywhere else. They really believe in the students," says Emily.

Attending college had seemed unrealistic to Emily. That is because the severity of her condition forced her to finish high school online. As time passed, pursuing a college degree seemed more and more distant.

"I definitely was not going to give up, but I was starting to lose hope. That made me really nervous, because I did not know what I was going to do," remembers Emily.

Throughout the UST program, students are encouraged to advocate for themselves and find out about their learning needs so they can reach their goals. Personalized attention, according to Dr. Torres, is a critical factor.

"Students have 1-on-1 support. We also have a certified learning therapist who keeps in daily contact with each individual," says Torres.

Another student benefiting from the program is 36-year-old Christian Arias. Autism limited his professional opportunities. Now, he aspires to work for the retail industry.

"After I complete my associate program, I would like to study business management."

The students in this program attend in-person classes Monday through Thursday. Based on their specific interest, during the last semester of the program, each student is placed in an internship.

Emily has her sights on becoming a therapist or a teacher. For now, as she is gradually gaining confidence, she is enjoying her college experience and discovering her strengths.

Emily explained, "Because we work differently and have different challenges, that doesn't mean that we are not deserving of having the same college experience as anyone else. Our learning differences and mental health struggles do not have to define our hopes and possibilities."

To learn more about the Associate of Applied Science in Pragmatic Studies, visit www.ustthom.edu/pragmaticstudies or call Dr. Tera Torres at 713-899-0690