WinthropLIFE Program

Alumni News and Success Stories 



From left: Amber Wesson '17 is employed as a hostess and lives independently with roommates; Kevin Rauippius '16 is employed at the YMCA; Tasia Perry '16 is employed with Rock Hill School District; Raheem Cornwell '16) is employed at Walgreens and started his own DJ business; and Lucas Love '17 was the first individual with autism to be a full member of a Greek Life organization at Winthrop and is employed as a server assistant at a local restaurant. 

"My name is Sam Latham, and I am a 2017 graduate of Winthrop Think College. In reflecting upon my time at Winthrop, my greatest sense of accomplishment was the experience of living independently on campus. In my first year I commuted each day, attending classes and participating in campus life throughout the day, which was great. But, for my second year, I remember the excitement (and a little nervousness) about taking the next step of my journey and moving into Phelps Dormitory. Living on campus allowed me to test and gain confidence in my independent living skills, expand my social opportunities and really get immersed in the rhythms of Winthrop campus life. I learned to eat with different friends, stay organized, live with my roommate/suite-mates, study on my own schedule, meet new people, work internships, socialize, cheer on the Big South Champion Eagle's, take road trips, go on Spring Break and lastly, proudly walk across the stage at the Winthrop Coliseum. Winthrop Think College gave me the chance to challenge myself, my limitations and gain confidence that I know I will use to succeed."


Sam Latham '17 with his parents Steve and Kim. 

Testimonials from faculty, staff and families 


Amber Wesson '17 with her parents Brad and Christine.

On August 9, 1994, our lovely daughter, Amber Wesson, was brought into this world. She was a beautiful baby girl who was born with Down Syndrome. Her doctor made a lasting statement that day when he said "Treat and raise her just like your three boys." Well, her brothers took that to heart by not cutting her any slack. All in a good way! They have been great big brothers. As Amber developed, she was a shy, routine oriented young girl who lacked self-confidence and social interaction. She struggled with communication which was very frustrating to her and heightened her anxiety. To say the least, she was really struggling as her high school years were coming to an end. She witnessed her three brothers graduate and go off to college. She said to me one day in her senior year, I want to go to college and live with a roommate. I was somewhat surprised. This was coming from a girl who would not stay overnight with anybody but Mom and Dad. I also did not know if there were college programs available for her. We were very happy to learn that the Winthrop Think College Program was available. The program focused on the students' individual interests with inclusion in some regular student classes. Amber was so excited to be able to be in the program. Of course there were growing pains along the way. She has progressed so much over her two years in the program. She has overcome her shyness, is much more social, and the self-confidence has greatly improved. Amber was able to live her dream of going to college and living with a roommate. She has a network of friends that she socializes with just like the rest of us. Her time in the WTC program prepared her for the next stage of her life--living in her own place. This she very much wanted to do even though, for parents, it's a very scary thought. I am so proud to say she is doing it! She has moved into a house with roommates and has a job! She is so happy! And we are so happy for her! Though we do miss her! We would like to thank everyone involved with the WTC program. You have and are making dreams come true for some very special young adults.   -- Brad and Christine Wesson, parents of Amber Wesson '17


Amber Wesson with her best friend Taylor Rolt. 

Throughout my time working as a peer mentor at Winthrop Think College, I have learned about the importance of inclusion, person-first language, age appropriateness, high expectations, independent living skills, self-advocacy, and self-determination. I have taught WTC courses, been to classes with students, helped to plan events, and lead person-centered planning meetings. Being a peer mentor at Winthrop Think College has completely shifted my perspective. I am now someone who advocates not just for people with disabilities to not be discriminated against and to be included in typical college activities, but someone who views them as a person first. These individuals are not defined by their disabilities. Each one of the students I have interacted with has proved each judgement and limitation given to them as wrong. Watching them reach their potential in their classes, internships, residence halls, social interactions, and employment settings has been such a reward. I thought my job was awesome when I was getting paid to eat at Subway with my people with disabilities, but now those people are my friends and are who I live with and spend all my time with. I used to view working with the students from WTC as my job. My role has now changed from peer mentor and student to best friends and roommates. When I look at my college friend group, most of the people in it originated from WTC. It is so rewarding to be surrounded by peers who value educating others on why it is important to treat individuals with disabilities as their equals. -- Taylor Rolt, Lead Peer Mentor 


Basia Oley '16  in front of the Winthrop sign on the first day of her Winthrop experience.

It's hard to know where to really begin, but the one thing we will all agree on, her family, friends and all the people here associated with this program is that, "The Winthrop Think College Program was the best decision we have ever made for our daughter, Barbara Krystyna Oley." Our daughter has always been a bright, inquisitive, sensitive young person, always eager to learn. Before Basia attended WTC, she faced her struggles and trials in a shy, small way-- never believing she would ever be capable of the things she is doing now. No matter the amount of love and encouragement we gave her, that everyone gave her, she still had lingering doubts about herself and her future. This wonderful program, Winthrop University's Think College Program, gave her the necessary tools, friendship, trust and encouragement she needed to realize that she will succeed in life! Basia now has hope, faith and a bright tomorrow.

Basia, is now driving her own car, working part-time at a grocery store, buying her own groceries, and preparing her own meals. She drives herself to the barn where she boards her horse and takes care of him several times a week. She does everything from filling up her own gas tank to cleaning out her own car to going to visit friends. Basia has started living a very independent life while still being at home. She is seeking to volunteer at a local school library a couple times a week. Her goals are to become a library assistant in a public or school library. She is also saving money for a new horse. She loves George, but he's getting pretty old, so she's looking for a new horse to train and ride and that can keep up with her fast pace and new-found energy for life.

Aware of her own abilities, Basia no longer just gives up on challenges! She seeks advice from family, friends and co-workers. This program has given her life skills to move forward in everyday life. She comprehends better, is thinking logically, and has a better understanding of goal setting, achieving results, disappointments, and renegotiating goals than she ever had before WTC. Basia is not too proud to ask for help or stand up for herself and others. She's learning the concept of saving money to pay for what she needs and to have the things she wants. She's learning to balance a checking account, purchasing items, and opening a savings account. She is now saving for a horse and the upcoming WTC Student, Mentor, Alumni, Spring Break Cruise. Basia's confidence in independent decision making and problem solving has grown since experiencing this program. Her car engine low tire pressure light came on while she was driving, she pulled over and called me. I asked her what would she do if I had not answered the phone and dad didn't answer either. She advised me she would drive to the garage where we get our cars repaired! Which is exactly what I was about to tell her to do.

Basia has grown so much socially, emotionally, physically, and all of this growth can be contributed to what WTC has done for her and our family. We could not be more proud of her and all the people that made this possible. Go Winthrop University Think College Eagles! -- Gerry and Terri Oley, parents of Basia Oley '16


WTC Peer Mentors. Back row: Taylor Rolt, Tim White, Brandon Kerr, Jasmine David, Zuri Anderson, Brent Shuman. Front Row: Jodi Lee, Sarah Berry, Ryan Kerr, Rachel Mitchell.

Becoming a peer mentor is one of the best things that has happened to me in college. The students in Winthrop Think College have taught me more than I could ever teach them. Working does not feel like work because I get to have fun and hang out with my friends in the Think College. WTC is like a big happy family that has taken me in as a member, and I am so very grateful. WTC has opened my mind to see the possibilities that are available for adults with disabilities. Working for WTC has instilled in me the passion to be an advocate for people with disabilities. -- Peer Mentor Molly Garrison


Molly and Stacie at the Carolina Panthers Bank of America Stadium.

Winthrop Think College has made a huge impact on my life. When I first started being a peer mentor, I did not think it would have as great of an impact on me as it does today. It has opened my mind to the concept of inclusion and what it really means to be known for who you are. I work with one student named Colby. One day he had a lot of work to do in his history class and computer science class. At the end of our time together, he had finished all of the tasks and work that he was anxious about finishing. I told him that he did a great job with all of his work and he said, "Wow. I really did it! I finished all of my work! I am really proud of myself!" This was such a sweet moment and he was so genuinely excited for himself. That is what this program is about!  -- Peer Mentor Jodi Lee


Jodi Lee with Colby Childers

Winthrop Think College is so much more than a school program — it is a wonderful collection of faculty, staff, and students, all working together to create a better community. -- Ralph Woodring, Dacus Library

I have been blessed beyond measure to work with our Winthrop Think College students. For the past few semesters, I have had students in my introduction to education class, and they have been an integral part of my classroom community. They have shared their stories and opened the hearts and minds of their classmates and peers. I am in awe of the program, the phenomenal students themselves, and their dedicated peer mentors who help them navigate college life. My office is right up the stairs from the Think College office, so I get to interact with these young adults on a daily basis. I remember the day one of the students, whom I had never heard speak a word, stepped in my office and said "HEY!" I love getting to see the growth of this program and the students who make it what it is! -- Dr. Sherell M. Fuller, former Director of Teaching Fellows Program

I have dedicated my career to promoting the inclusion of individuals with disabilities across home, school, and community contexts. Sometimes working with others to support the successful inclusion of these individuals is challenging and many barriers and obstacles get in the way. However, the Winthrop faculty, staff, and students have made the WTC program a successful inclusive experience for the program participants. They have embraced the opportunities to interact and fully include individuals with intellectual disabilities in classes, recreational activities, and in job placements. I am excited to be a part of this program and can't wait to see how it continues to grow and expand! -- Dr. Deb Leach, former professor of Special Education

The Winthrop Think College has grown the heart of our Winthrop family. Beyond enriching the quality of our community of learners, the WTC students, mentors and staff have only served to inspire our commitment to appreciating the many things that make us different while celebrating the things share and value as a common humanity. I can't imagine a Winthrop without WTC. -- Geoff Morrow, Outdoor Education & Basic Instruction Program Director