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Jennifer Kerchner '12
2011 Soar Student

Jennifer KerchnerMajor/minor: music and elementary education

Hometown: Bethlehem, PA

Project title: Young adults with disabilities and their parents: setting their own research agendas

Project advisor: Christie Gilson

Project details: Together with the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living, Dr. Gilson and I worked with young adults who have disabilities and their parents. We specifically wanted to learn more about the transition process from high school to college, a job, or living independently. Many services are available while these students are in school, but very few services continue after age 21, regardless of whether families are able to make other plans or not.

Recognizing the families as experts, we listened to them during several focus groups. We posed general questions to the group and took notes during the meetings. After identifying the major themes, the parents and students were able to further pursue topics they felt strongly about. We also met with the young adults in smaller groups and encouraged them to work toward their personal goals. Some wanted to get a job, explore colleges, or improve at a hobby. As they shared their progress, we could see how their goals compared and contrasted with those of their parents.

Why I wanted to participate in SOAR: I wanted to get more experience working with students with disabilities, in preparation for student teaching and eventually being a teacher.

Results: We heard many concerns for the future, from both parents and their children. Parents worried about their childrens’ safety, ability to find and keep jobs, and maintain relationships. The students also wanted to make better friends, get a job, or continue on to college. The students showed pride in their work and progress, and despite their concerns, the parents were more than ready to express their immense love and pride for their children.

Future plans: Because this work was geared toward high school-age students, I won’t be working directly on it in the future, because I plan to teach elementary school. However, learning from these young people firsthand has helped me improve at connecting. Their words will help me when I become an advocate for students in my own classes.