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RiverHawks Scholar Program

NSU celebrates first graduating class of RiverHawks Scholar Program

RSP Graduates
Pictured from left to right is RiverHawks Scholar Program Director Justin Chase, Alaine Lambert, Michael Copeland and Sarah Parrack.
TAHLEQUAH — Three Northeastern State University students are slated to graduate this May from the first post-secondary transition certificate program for students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in Oklahoma.

Seniors Alaine Lambert of Muskogee, Sarah Parrack and Michael Copeland of Tulsa will don a cap and gown and walk across the stage with other NSU students at spring commencement on May 7.

“I’m excited to see what their life is going to hold. I’m also sad because I’m going to miss them.” RiverHawks Scholar Program Director Justin Chase said. “For four years we’ve worked extremely closely with these students. We’ve been blessed to be a part of this journey with them.  They have definitely added as much to my life, as I’ve added to theirs. We’re definitely going to miss them.”

The trio was among the first cohort of students to enroll in NSU’s RiverHawks Scholar Program. Launched in 2018, the four-year program provides individuals with mild/moderate intellectual and/or developmental disabilities with the opportunity to complete a four-year certificate and learn how to live independently and achieve gainful employment in the career of their choice.

Alaine Lamber
Alaine Lamber
Lambert said she will miss the friends she made while attending classes and events on campus. She plans to keep in contact with them and visit the campus to catch up with those who made her collegiate experience so rewarding.

After graduation Lambert hopes to continue working with students after gaining experience doing so as part of her internships at Heritage and Greenwood Elementary schools. 

“Being here has taught me how to be successful and kind to everyone. I've enjoyed making good friends but am excited to finally graduate,” Lambert said.

Sarah Parrack
Sarah Parrack
Parrack transferred to NSU from another post-secondary program in Kansas City.  She too will miss the friendships built at NSU and attending the different NSU athletic events. She added she will also miss her teachers.

"While I was here, I've learned to be honest, kind and organized, and how to be independent,” Parrack said. “I am just really excited to graduate, excited it's really happening.”

After graduation, Parrack wants to move to Stillwater which is closer to her family. She is interested in working in a school library system after spending some time during college working in the library at Greenwood Elementary.

Copeland said along with meeting new friends he enjoyed learning new skills as part of the program and internship. 

As a student, Copeland interned with NSU Parking & Traffic Services and most recently the NSU Motor Pool. He plans to visit his sister after graduation before heading to Tulsa where he hopes to continue his education at a local community college.

Michael Copeland
Michael Copeland
"I am happy to graduate,” Copeland said. “I learned a bunch of stuff: to be a good team leader, to get work done. But most importantly, to have fun."

NSU partnered with the Oklahoma nonprofit LeadLearnLive to establish the program. The nonprofit contributed $330,000 to get the program up and sustainable which is matched by the university’s equal commitment to offering this program.

Founder and Executive Director of LeadLearnLive Julie Lackey said NSU leadership was very supportive of adding this program. She said NSU’s decision to embrace this program may have spurred other Oklahoma institutions to follow suit with the number of programs expected to grow to three in the state this fall.

Lackey said the graduating students and RiverHawks Scholar Program worked very hard to reach this graduation milestone. The program is about improving these students' lives, she said, which includes the achievement of a more independent life and choice of employment.

“As more students complete the program and enjoy the benefit of what has been poured into them through their years at NSU, our hope is that RSP students will truly soar and the program will continue to grow and reach more students,” Lackey said.

Riverhawk scholars seniors group