There’s nothing like that first time in a voting booth to make
you feel like patriotic, red-blooded American.
Two students in Appalachian State University’s Scholars with Diverse Abilities program did just that last Monday, taking advantage of North Carolina’s early voting period to cast their ballots at the Watauga County Courthouse in Boone.
Courtney Bell, 22, a junior in the program, and Connor Burleson, 18, a freshman in the program, traveled from the ASU campus to the courthouse with Dr. Melody Schwantes, director of the Scholars with Diverse Abilities program.
The program, now in its third year at Appalachian State, started at Western North Carolina University and has since spread to several other campuses.
"What I have seen is how independent and motivated our students are now," Schwantes said. "They have really increased their self-determination in terms of their post-college goals and aspirations.
“The other side of this program is that we have over 70 volunteers who are working with our students this year. They come from various majors on campus. We have seen them grow in terms of their abilities to work with young adults with intellectual disabilities. They are gaining skills that they need to work in social work, psychology, special ed, music therapy and other fields upon graduation."
Bell was the first ever ASU student in the program and is now joined by Burleson and freshman Mieszko Kwiatkowski, a student who had planned to join the others in voting on Monday, but turned his ankle and was absent from the trip to the courthouse.
Burleson is currently enrolled in a course, titled “Introduction to Film: Freshman Seminar.”
“We watch clips of certain movies and talk about how they were made,” Burleson said. “We just watched some clips of Alfred Hitchcock movies.”
Burleson said he plans on taking another film class and a photography class in the spring semester.
“I love everything about being at ASU,” Burleson said. “I just love being there. It is like a second home.”
Burleson said he has been to several of the Mountaineer football games this season and is a member of the Apps Film Club.
“We talk about what movies are coming to I.G. Greer Theater,” he said.
The Scholars with Diverse Abilities program is designed for students with disabilities who might not otherwise be able to participate in the college experience. The students in the program take regular college courses over two years, ones that will help them in their lives and careers.
Burleson’s career path looks like it is headed toward the film industry. In addition to taking the introduction to film class and his involvement with the Apps Film Club, he also works at Blockbuster Video in Boone.
“Some of my favorite movies are the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies and the ‘Star Wars’ movies,” Burleson said. “I started watching a lot of movies on my computer with Netflix.”
While a career in the film industry might have to wait until Burleson is finished with his studies at ASU, his career as a voting American has already begun.
“It was just like I thought it was going to be,” Burleson said of his experience in the voting booth. “It was like my dad said, ‘Once you go in there and start voting, it goes naturally.’”