Personal Story

Feature Issue on Inclusive Higher Education for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Campus Conversations


Samantha Gibbs is a first-year student at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, who receives support from the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI).

Maria Paiewonsky, program director at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, coordinates training and technical assistance for MAICEI.

A female college student stands in a blue Salem State sweatshirt, wearing glasses and resting one hand on her hip.

Growing up in a big family helped Samantha feel at home in college.

Samantha: Having more responsibility and taking responsibility for myself are what I like best about college. In high school, you have some responsibilities, but not a lot. In college, you have to do everything you can to get to classes on time and it’s not as structured as high school. I’m taking ownership of my homework and of turning it in, and I have to work with my education coach to let her know my schedule. At Salem State, I’ve taken oral communications classes and exercise classes.

Maria: That’s great. What are the hard parts of college?

Taking notes. I take my notes but I struggle with that sometimes. Sometimes, if I forget, I don't do my homework. I have Down syndrome, and my learning disability can make it take longer to process questions.

Rachel Connary, the MAICEI coordinator at Salem State, said you are open and inclusive of everyone here at college, and that you’ve described your classmates as being like a family. She said you have friends at the police department and in the theater department, and that you are joining a women’s empowerment group. Where does all of that come from?

Probably from my own family. When my brother started college, I knew I wanted to be in college and to be as successful as my brother. When my other brother started college, I kind of got a little jealous that they were there with their friends.

Last fall, you were featured in a Salem State promotional video, and you talked about what you want to do in your future. What are those dreams?

I said I want to be a makeup artist. I want to travel the world and put makeup on people on TV sets and movie sets. It’s so much fun. When we go to campus here, we have internships and Rachel helps you get into internships off campus or on campus. I work in a nursing home now and it’s so much fun.

What do you do at the nursing home?

Obviously, I put makeup on them [the residents]! We’ll do an exercise, we’ll do games, we’ll do like Boggle, or board games and I do their hair. So anytime you want to do your hair and makeup, I’m your girl.

You also said on the video that college is like a maze: sometimes you’ll be in the wrong class and sometimes you’ll be in the right class. I really like that way of thinking about it because it seems to mean that there will be good days and bad days, but the trick is to just keep going.

You learn to be flexible. You expect your day to go one way, but really it is going the other way. Sometimes you plan to meet someone on campus, and you might get lost. Then you need to find help. One time I was lost on campus, and I had to ask other students for directions. The upper classmen seem to know where everything is.