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Q&A: Missouri State University’s Bear POWER Program

Missouri State University’s Bear POWER (Promoting Opportunities for Work, Education and Resilience) program offers a post-secondary education opportunity to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

by Jennifer Johnmeyer

May 2021

Bear POWER at Wonders of Wildlife
Photo courtesy Bear POWERMembers of the Bear POWER program headed to WOW for some hands-on experience outside the classroom.

Bear POWER (Promoting Opportunities for Work, Education and Resilience) Director Rachel Heinz and Volunteer/Intern Program Supervisor Melissa Gibson from Wonders of Wildlife (where students gain real-world experience) tell Biz 417 about the program.

Biz 417: How does Bear POWER set its students up for success?
Rachel Heinz: The goal for every student is to support them in the transition from Bear POWER to integrated employment. It is wonderful to see students thriving on campus and the ways our university has embraced Bear POWER.

Biz: What are the benefits for Bear POWER’s partnering businesses?
R.H.: Our partnerships with area employers have allowed us to work alongside others who see the value of inclusion within their workplace. When inclusive practices are utilized within employment settings, there is so much added value for both the employees and the employer.
Melissa Gibson: Our collaboration has given us the opportunity to support a great local organization and their students. We provide them an [opportunity] to gain real-world experience.

Biz: How does it help our community?
R.H.: This program provides resources and support regarding inclusion and diversity.

Biz: What’s your advice for expanding diversity and inclusion?
R.H.: When people talk about diversity, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often left out. [This] is another voice for those with differing abilities to help break down barriers, so that everyone can be included and engaged.
M.G.: Be open to new experiences. The business and team members are seeing different ways to expand our diversity and inclusion measures. It really is a win-win. I challenge and encourage other businesses to explore this incredible program.