Blazing a trail: Ann Switzer 1st to complete UK's College and Career Studies Program

May 18, 2023

Ann Switzer (center) helps record artists' sets at Kenwick Table's open mic night. Photo by Lindsay Travis.
Ann Switzer (center) helps record artists' sets at Kenwick Table's open mic night. Photo by Lindsay Travis.

"Community. Coffee. Wine." Those words are listed on the sign for Kenwick Table. Tucked away in a Lexington neighborhood, the community-based coffee shop creates a comfortable and inviting atmosphere for all people.

On Monday nights you’ll find local artists eagerly waiting for their turn to play a few songs as part of an open mic night. They’re greeted near the stage by a familiar face, sharing her love of music with the community built up at Kenwick Table.

“Having Ann Switzer help out with open mics means the world to me,” said Jondra Nicole, who directs the weekly event. “Open mic is meant to be an inclusive group effort and the sense of community we are building bears a special kind of sweetness that I hope to continue building up for some time to come.”

When she’s not adjusting microphones for artists, Switzer is in the audience smiling and clapping to the rhythm of the guitar. When the music is over for the night, Switzer edits recordings of the sets and sends them to artists.

It’s a role she discovered while in the University of Kentucky’s College and Career Studies (CCS) Program which is coordinated by the UK Human Development Institute (HDI). Switzer piloted the program and is now the first to complete it. She will also receive an undergraduate certificate in universal design from UK and will be recognized for her accomplishments at an academic showcase with other UK students on May 4.

“This has always been a dream for me,” said Switzer. “Going through this program at UK with HDI, the peer mentors and the other CCS students has been amazing. I really want to thank Erin Fitzgerald, who runs our program, for being by my side the whole way.”

During open mic nights, Fitzgerald, the CCS Program coordinator, is not too far away to remind artists to fill out track lists for Switzer or to record the individual sets. The two work in tandem to highlight local artists who appreciate the effort.

“The spotlight may be on the performers during an open mic, but people like Ann who support and contribute in other ways rarely get the recognition and praise they deserve," said Tyler Spear, an open mic veteran. "Ann is a welcome face, a kind and appreciative listener and always eager to help.”

The opportunity for collaboration is one Switzer’s parents are thankful for as Fitzgerald has helped guide Switzer throughout her college experience away from her hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky.

“From the first time I spoke with Erin on the phone until today, I kept waiting for someone to wake me up and say, ‘It was all a dream and Ann did not get to attend UK.’ Very similar to when we sent Ann’s older sister to Lexington, we were very excited for her but also very afraid. With CCS Program staff and HDI behind Ann, we knew she would be safe and supported in her classes,” said Cathy Switzer, Ann’s mom.

As part of the CCS Program, students take classes that suit their interests and explore internship placements or options for volunteer experience in the community. For Ann, she’s been able to focus on what she loves. 

“From my classes, I have learned about music. I have learned about its history, all the different types of music, and how it is recorded and brought to the world. I have also learned about communication and the importance of listening and truthfulness. When you combine what I have learned together with actual recording skills, I am ready to see how I can combine these things to help others,” said Ann.

As for any college student, there have been challenges in learning the material and navigating campus. At the beginning of Ann’s college career, her parents say it took a partnership to keep her on schedule and prepared for class. They’ve watched Ann grow in her independence in two years in the program.

“She now manages her own daily schedule, including classes and other events. She independently has everything ready that she needs to take on campus with her, plans days ahead on projects and studies for big tests,” said Cathy.

The campus community has helped Ann live a full college experience with many favorite memories, from watching UK football get a historic win over Florida to being part of one of UK’s biggest traditions — DanceBlue.

“Physically being part of the hundreds of students who raised $1.6 million for pediatric cancer research was so rewarding,” said Ann. “My friends were there with me, and they got me through the 24-hour dance marathon.”

“I have always been in awe of what Ann has accomplished,” said Cathy. “She has always known she belonged on UK’s campus. It scared us when Ann wanted to do something we thought she should not attempt, but she has proven us wrong so many times. She has earned the right to try.”

Ann is moving on to her next dream. She intends to pursue a part-time position with HDI as a campus liaison and media consultant for the CCS Program and Kentucky Supported Higher Education Partnership (KSHEP) team.

Her parents know she will find success and credit Ann’s college experience for giving her the confidence to take that next step in life.

“Ann has learned that she can walk into a workplace setting, be shown what task is required and she can accomplish that,” said Cathy. “The College and Career Studies Program has prepared her for all kinds of options.”

Ann Switzer has blazed a trail at UK for other students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She offers a piece of advice for any student who is looking to continue their education and find their community:

“No matter how old you are right now if college is something you think you want then work hard in school starting today. At UK in the CCS program, you will have to study, read and write a lot, but it is great. The staff and mentors in the CCS program will help you and your family all they can, but you must do the work.”

About the College and Career Studies Program
The College and Career Studies (CCS) Program is a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) Program, approved by the U.S. Department of Education, for students with intellectual disabilities who want to continue academic, career and technical, and independent living instruction to prepare for competitive integrated employment.  

The program is part of the Kentucky Supported Higher Education Partnership (KSHEP), a network of institutions of higher education across the state offering inclusive higher education programs for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to coordinating UK’s CTP program, HDI also serves as Kentucky’s technical assistance center on supported higher education. Other partners for UK’s program include the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), the Stuckert Career Center and the Disability Resource Center.

For more information about UK College and Career Studies Program, including how to apply, contact Erin Fitzgerald ([email protected]). You can also find more information online here.

To learn more about inclusive higher education in Kentucky, contact Johnny Collett ([email protected]) or visit https://kshep.hdiuky.org/.

About the Human Development Institute
The Human Development Institute (HDI) is a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Kentucky and Kentucky’s University Center on Disability. HDI’s mission is to advance efforts that build inclusive communities, address inequities and improve the lives of all people who experience disability across the lifespan.

HDI also serves as the statewide technical assistance center supporting CTP programs at Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, and Bluegrass Community and Technical College, as well as a resource to other Kentucky colleges and universities interested in establishing a program.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $501 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.  

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