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Knights Exemplar: Making a Difference in UCF’s Underserved Community

Out of the hundreds of student-led organizations on UCF’s campus, Knights Exemplar is one that certainly shines brightly due to its originality and the huge impact it has already made despite only being founded a month ago. I sat down with KE’s dedicated officer board to go over a few questions so as to gain more insight into why and how this wonderful organization intends to make a difference in the lives of the students who are a part of the IES program. For students who don’t know what the IES program is, IES stands for Inclusive Education Services and it provides students who have intellectual disabilities with the opportunity to engage in a 2.5 year non-degree seeking academic experience in order to earn a Professional Services’ Credential through three different concentrations!

To give you some context as to what Knights Exemplar is and does without spoiling the questions in advance, their mission statement is as follows: “The mission of Knights Exemplar is to support and create campus engagement and professional development through the establishment of a campus-wide mentorship program. Involvement Ambassadors directly support students with intellectual disabilities connected with Inclusive Education Services (IES).”

What inspired you to found Knights Exemplar?

Answering this question are the two founders of KE: the president, Taylor Duffy, and the vice president, Andrea Doster

Andrea: “[…] my passion for connecting all UCF Knights in a social atmosphere. Essentially my mission was to connect degree seeking students and students with intellectual disabilities in the most natural setting there is.”

Taylor: “… While there are many great organizations that support this population socially, I knew we could do more to support their academic and professional goals. I hope that Knights Exemplar can serve as an intermediary between students and UCF’s many resources, allowing them to make the most out of their college experience and become more self-sufficient as a result.”

What motivated you to be a part of the officer board?

This question was presented to the rest of the officer board, which includes: Tyler Loring (Treasurer), Meeti Mehta (Secretary), Caroline Hobson (Involvement Chair), Ana Martins (Director of Campus Involvement), Sonya Brown (Director of Career Exploration), Julia Hirsch (Director of Health & Wellness) and Madilyn Maschoff (Director of Academics).

Madilyn: “I am an employee at IES so I thought it was awesome that this program is so special, and the students inspiring, that I wanted other degree-seeking students to get the opportunity to see this because I know these students have a lot of value for our students so they can get connected on campus.”

Caroline: “I have a brother who is 18 and has autism so I witness first hand what happens when they reach adulthood – everything changes and it gets a lot harder for them and their families. So for me, it’s an honor to help others in a similar situation to keep pursuing their goals as they exit school and enter a post-secondary environment.”

Ana: “I have personal experience in my family — my aunt would tell me that she would go out on the street and people would look at her funny or be afraid to touch her because they thought it was contagious. I also volunteer with Buddy Ball for kids with intellectual and motor disabilities and it is so awesome to see that even two hours of your day in a week can make such an impact on such people that I wanted to bring that into the university. Not just to be a buddy, but also be someone who can give criticism to let them grow because some people are too childish with them when they don’t have to be.”

What is the purpose of KE and what are you doing to help this underserved population?

The rest of the questions were proposed to the entire board.

Taylor: “… In addition to creating the accessibility that students need and deserve to make the most out of their experience at UCF, we really want to strengthen UCF’s pursuit of campus-wide inclusivity. With greater diversity in student involvement comes increased diveristy in both social interactions and thought processes. I think this will help cultivate a more informed and inclusive student body.”

Andrea: “We are directly supporting students with intellectual disabilities who are connected with IES through campus engagement and professional development. We are doing that by setting up our events, our mentorship program in the works, our IAs and better-accommodating events on campus for our students with disabilities.”

What are IAs? Can anyone become an IA?

Andrea: “Involvement Ambassadors are synonymous with peer mentors, they are our student leaders that help facilitate the events led by Knights Exemplar.”

Taylor: “… Anyone can become an IA! All you need to do is attend one mandatory KE orientation, in which we discuss Title IX, FERPA, and other specifics that come with being a leader within the program!”

Meeti: “It is important to note that there are requirements for the IAs to maintain as well — they are required to fulfill 10 semester hours of student interaction and tutoring and they are notified if they do not fill them. Steps are ensured to make sure that our IAs are involved to make sure our students are getting the best possible experience.”

How do the students in the IES program feel about KE?

Taylor: “… The students are the backbone; without them, there is no KE. So far, the students have really enoyed meeting all of the IAs. We make sure we’re always communicating with them to see how we can do better as a team. We also have a student liason from the IES program who serves an integral role on our Officer Board!”

Andrea: “General consensus is that everyone likes getting connected with KE. Although they like the student staff at IES, they see them in the academic role, while in KE they feel like they are socially connected and that the IAs are their peers.”

What are some events you’re excited for?

As a whole, the officers agreed that they were all very excited for their upcoming event on Friday, November 15 — the KE Field Day Social. At this event, the IES students and IAs will bond together through minute-to-win-it games, sports and snacks! This is one of the many events that KE hosts in order to make sure that the students are gaining experience and connections with their peers. They also mentioned being thrilled to be able to form their own Knight-Thon committee for Relay for Life!

Where would you like to see KE end up?

Taylor: “… Looking to the future, I hope KE can allow even more students to be a part of such a special post-secondary experience, like college. Together, I hope we can reimagine the post-secondary educational experience for everyone.”

Andrea: “I want us to go national — we created a framework that can be implemented at other inclusive institutions. I feel we can take this idea to other programs and show them a model of sustainability for peer mentors.”

It was heartwarming to see the passion that all of the officers had for both their organization and the students in it. The fact that they already have so many IAs and events despite the RSO’s young age shows how hard work and a love for helping underserved communities can manifest something so beautiful. If you want to follow along with KE’s work, follow their social media at @knights.exemplar on Instagram and /KnightsExemplar on Facebook!

All media courtesy of the author and Knights Exemplar.

Fakhri is a junior majoring in Biomedical Sciences, with a minor in Health Sciences, and aspires to be an OB/GYN. She loves volunteering, her family, and hedgehogs!
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