Two first-year ACE-IT students pursue career goals

Wright Villani and Jewell Jones making use of program’s career and campus opportunities.

By Sara Burns

Although many first-year Virginia Commonwealth University students haven’t decided what they want to focus on for their future careers, Wright Villani and Jewell Jones have already started honing in on their professional goals.

Both are in the ACE-IT in College program, part of the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center in the School of Education. ACE-IT is an inclusive learning and training program at VCU for college students with intellectual disabilities. ACE-IT prepares students for future careers through inclusive academics, employment and campus activities. Students also get to work one-on-one with education and job coaches who support their academic and employment success.

Headshots of two first-year ACE-IT students: Wright Villani and Jewell Jones.
First-year ACE-IT students Wright Villani and Jewell Jones have already begun to refine their career goals.

Students who are accepted into ACE-IT take two to three classes per semester. In the program's first semester, students take UNIV 101: Introduction to the University, a freshman transition class, for credit as well as other courses that align with their career goals. Students also participate in a variety of campus activities and paid, inclusive work experiences.

Hannah Ramsey, ACE-IT in College program coordinator, said that Villani has enjoyed his time getting to work with his peer mentors at ACE-IT, investing time in and completing his coursework. “This semester, he liked his UNIV 211: Food for Thought and INFO 160: Digital Literacy classes,” she said.

Villani also works at VCU’s Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP), part of VCU’s recreation sports center that includes a bike shop, team building workshops, a climbing and bouldering wall, outdoor trips and adventure activities, and student outdoor leadership certification. “I clean the bikes, I check out the equipment on the computer, and check the trails," Villani said. In addition to learning new technical skills, Villani shared that he also learned how to speak up and act more independently this semester through his work at the OAP.

Villani’s goal is to eventually pursue his love of working with animals, which comes from previous work at the SPCA. “He has two dogs at home that he does a lot to take care of,” said Ramsey. Villani’s work at the OAP contributed to this goal by giving him experience working in outdoor settings and in a collaborative environment helping others.

Both Villani and Jones are examples of how ACE-IT provides academic, career and campus opportunities for students to pursue competitive employment and a self-determined future.

Jones’ goal is to pursue a career in child development. “At first, I wanted to be a photographer, and then my niece and nephew came along and I started working with kids,” she said. Jones currently has two jobs: one at a daycare center and the other at VCU’s Office of Sustainability, where she helps handle paperwork and organize activities. Her work at the Office of Sustainability helps prepare Jones for her goal of owning her own daycare by giving her office experiences as well as allowing her to assist with their childrens’ outreach program.

Her favorite class this semester was UNIV 101. “I learned a lot,” she said. “I liked the teacher, too. He helped me understand things more.” Jones said that this past semester taught her about learning to speak more.

When she isn’t in class or working, Jones enjoys engaging in campus activities, including rooting for the VCU Rams.

“I like going to the basketball games,” she said.

ACE-IT in College, which began at VCU in 2011, is a four-semester program that results in the student earning a VCU School of Education certificate. The program's outcomes are impressive, with 90% of alumni obtaining paid, competitive, inclusive employment, while 86% of students and families report an improved quality of life for those who participate.

Applications for the 2021-2022 cohort to ACE-IT in College are now open. The application can be found here and is due January 31, 2022. If you would like to help make the program more accessible to ACE-IT students in the incoming class of 2022, the program’s donation form is found here.