Personal Story

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

Learning from Each Other


Marni Lane is a first-year student at Auburn University’s EAGLES program (Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success), a program for students with intellectual disability in Auburn, Alabama.

Jenna Riese is a sophomore at Auburn University, majoring in exercise science, who rooms with Marni as part of the WINGS (Warm-hearted Individuals Nurturing Great Success) peer mentor program.

Two female college students stand together outside their dorm, smiling. One wears a striped purple shirt. The other wears a black crop top under a black zippered jacket with blue pants.

Marni Lane and Jenna Riese on campus at Auburn University.


I was happy to get back here after winter break to be with my friends and to keep meeting new people. Over break I really missed my teachers and this place. I’m just a freshman, but I’ve changed since coming here. I’m definitely stronger now.

I’m taking classes to explore jobs to see what will work well for me. And I’m taking yoga to make sure I’m flexible and rock climbing, which is a little bit scary but I’m enjoying it. On the weekends we do EAGLES social events and it’s a lot of fun hanging out with my friends.

I really love living independently. I’m learning how to take care of myself and my living space. I’m still working on putting away my electronics and other things like washing my sheets. We have a laundry room and there’s an app that reminds you which machine you are using, which is really helpful.

I also love my new sorority, Chi Omega. During recruitment, at first, I was visiting my mom’s sorority and my sister’s sorority, but I chose Chi Omega because it was the best one for me.

Jenna makes me happy every day and I’m really getting along with her and my other roommates. We have different schedules throughout the day, but I always look forward to seeing Jenna so she can calm me down if I’m worried or nervous.

For my future, I’m dreaming about being a chef because I’ve taken cooking classes since I was 12. I’ve always loved to cook.

I started with a friend at home and we cooked together, learning different techniques. I’ve talked with my dad about becoming a teaching assistant and reading to kids, but I really like cooking.

At the beginning of this year, I was scared about moving away from home, but then I met everybody and they’re so friendly. It’s perfect for me and I’m loving it.

Two female roommates wash dishes at the sink in their dorm room.

Marni and Jenna learn to work together as roommates.


It was definitely the WINGS program that brought me to Auburn.

Growing up in Chattanooga, I started babysitting a little boy with Down syndrome. Through him I was introduced to a job as a camp counselor for a weekend retreat for individuals with disabilities and their families. I was also part of the IGNITE program at my high school [a youth transition program], so I feel like I’ve always had an interest in working with people with disabilities.

My dad went to Auburn, and while I was thinking about what I was going to do after high school I picked up his alumni magazine and there was an article with a headline to the effect of “Being Part of Something We All Believe In” that was about the EAGLES and WINGS programs. It resonated with me, and reflected a lot of my values and the things I want to do in my future. One week later I applied to Auburn.

My favorite thing to do with my roommates is to go on walks close to sunset. Auburn sunsets are amazing and it gives us a chance to get outside and have fun and get to know each other. It just makes me happy getting to know Marni and our other roommates. Of course, it’s always a little awkward when you start living with someone those first few weeks until you actually get to know each other. Now we’re all friends, but I think Marni would agree it was a little awkward in the beginning.

Today, Marni and I help each other in equally important ways, by working together and learning how to live together as roommates. We both learn those soft skills that are so important in everyday life.

The visibility of the program and the EAGLES students has grown just in the time I’ve been here. The EAGLES’ social media presence has grown, and a lot of sororities on campus have become involved. Being a part of the WINGS program has really changed what I place importance on and has helped me develop life-long skills. Everyone has different paths, but ultimately, as students, we have the common goal to better ourselves in one way or another, and everyone deserves that opportunity. The EAGLES program is ensuring Auburn is an inclusive community for everyone. I'm so happy to have become friends with Marni and be a part of this amazing program.

Auburn University’s EAGLES students get new ‘nest’ to help them soar to new heights | This online article from Auburn University, featuring Impact author Marni Lane and other EAGLES students, shares news about a recently renovated facility for program operations.