Innovative New Program at William Paterson University Helps Learning Disabled Students Ages 18 to 21 Find Their Career Path and Independence

Kaitlyn Poncera, a student who completed the program in June

An innovative new program offered in William Paterson University’s School of Continuing and Professional Education is providing school districts with a career path and life transition opportunity for students ages 18 to 21 with moderate learning disabilities that impact their independence and learning. 

Known as the Academic Transition Program, it enables students 18 to 21 to take certification courses in subjects like digital design, where they learn Photoshop, Microsoft Word, and other computer skills necessary to enter the workforce.   

“The purpose of the Academic Transition Program is to collaborate with school districts to provide high school students with learning differences the opportunity to learn a skill, be employable, and be independent,” says Bernadette Tiernan, executive director of the School of Continuing and Professional Education. 

“We’re getting an enthusiastic reaction to this program and demand is growing,” says Iris DiMaio, associate director of the School of Continuing and Professional Education.  The program was developed with school districts and the University’s College of Education.

“There is a gap in needed services to train high-functioning students with learning disabilities in specialized industries,” DiMaio explains. “Students graduate from high school, but because they are differently abled and not ready or able to attend college or work, they are still under the jurisdiction of local school districts until they are 21. Our goal is to help these students develop independence based on their individual capacities.”

Currently, twelve students from the Wayne, New Jersey school district, Benway School in Wayne, Lakeland High School in Wanaque, and Passaic Valley Technical School are enrolled in the program. Due to COVID-19, the program transitioned to full online instruction for the fall 2020 semester.

Classes focus on workplace design and productivity, communication and personal development, photography and 3D modeling. The skills learned could lead to potential job opportunities that range from administrative assistant, front desk support and customer service to entry-level assistant in the graphic design field. 

On Mondays and Fridays, students explore a range of career interests, including child development, construction basics, culinary and baking for hospitality services, business and entrepreneurship, and pathways to healthcare careers. Prior to the pandemic, the students took classes on the William Paterson campus, where they were mentored by William Paterson students, many majoring in disability studies, and obtained experience job shadowing William Paterson employees as part of the program.

To enroll in the spring 2021 semester or for more information about the program, contact Iris DiMaio, School of Continuing and Professional Education, at 973-720-2491 or 973-390-0340, or email