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(From left to right) Tara Mullen, Ginelle Giacomin, Cheryl Martens, Michelle Lodewyks and Colleen Isfeld are members of Red River College’s Disability and Community Support Program team.

Graduates of Red River College’s Disability and Community Support (DCS) program are being asked to share their thoughts about their college experience.

Earlier this year, the college contacted alumni of the DCS program and invited them to participate in a confidential online survey. The aim of the survey was to solicit feedback from DCS graduates about the effectiveness of the combined regular/workplace program, discover if the current model has increased retention and longevity in the field, and determine if it has helped to develop strong links within the disability support community.

The survey concluded in April and a report on its results is expected to be completed in June. College officials were pleased with the more than 60 responses to the survey they received.

Program Coordinator Cheryl Martens says the college regularly conducts student surveys, but this is the first time it has conducted one specifically about the DCS program and its current two-stream model for full-time learners and students who have been working in the field for a minimum of two years.

“It’s exciting for us. We’ve not had feedback like this before,” Martens says. “We think it will be very helpful for us in the future.”

Sandy Kauenhofen, a 2010 graduate of the DCS program and an Epic Opportunities Coordinator, says she thinks the survey can be an important tool in determining how people working in the field view the program and identifying areas where it can be made more effective.

“By seeing what we need to build on…that can’t do anything but have a positive impact on the people who are being supported in our community and the people who are providing those supports,” says Kauenhofen, who is also a board member of the Alliance of Direct Support Professionals of Manitoba (ADSPM).

The DCS program was launched in the mid-1980s as part of the Core Area Initiative to provide training to people interested in a career in disability support work. Red River took over the program and in 1992 began offering a two-year diploma program and an optional one-year certificate program.

More than 400 students have graduated from the program since it was has been offered by the college. The majority of them found work with residential, employment, day or educational support services in a variety of roles including direct support workers, managers and coordinators.

Martens says anecdotal evidence suggests the program is working well, but college officials felt the best way to determine if that data was accurate was to obtain feedback directly from DCS graduates.

The survey asked respondents a number of general questions such as when they graduated from the program and if they are currently employed in the disability support field. It also asked a series of questions specific to that person’s current position.

A report based on the results of the survey will be shared with members of an advisory council who will determine whether any changes to the program are required. It’s hoped the results will promote the importance of providing a quality education to people working in the disability support sector and maintain current levels of government support for the program, Martens adds.

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