Leading by inclusion

Early on this scholar knew that inclusion — in education, postsecondary opportunities, careers, and our community — would be her life’s passion. 

Friends Anna Fedewa and Lexi Villarreal pose for a photo together.
Produced by Lauren Cook; edited by Anne Bannister; cinematography by Anne Bannister & Brian Diggs
Anna at her sorority house, Pi Beta Phi.

(Left) Anna’s mother holds her in front of the School of Education in College Station where she graduated in 1993.

(Right) Anna is a sophomore at the School of Education, majoring in Special Education.

Modeling inclusion

In fall 2019, Texas A&M became the first university in the state to offer an inclusive, four-year postsecondary education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Five students enrolled in the first cohort of Aggie ACHIEVE (Academic Courses in Higher Inclusive Education and Vocational Experiences). The Aggie ACHIEVE students participate in weekly seminars focused on independent living, career awareness, and self-determination. They live in the residence halls, participate in student clubs and organizations, and are fully immersed in the Aggie experience –  “gig ‘ems” and all. 

As a first-year student, Anna worked with the educational psychology department to develop a student-led service organization in support of the Aggie ACHIEVE students. She is now president of ACHIEVEMates. 

A testament to her vast network of friends and the Aggie spirit of service, nearly 100 students applied to be ACHIEVEMates. Anna interviewed all of them and selected 70. They work closely with the Aggie ACHIEVE students to support academics, health and wellness, and self-advocacy. 

Getting involved, Anna says, is simple. “Invite them to lunch, sit with them at the dining hall, if you see them on the bus, ask if you can with them, walk them to class.”

But it goes deeper than that for Anna. Supporting students with disabilities isn’t only about being a leader in advocacy, research, and practice in the field. It’s about her friends.

(Left) Matthew Carrizal meets with Dr. Olivia Hester, Program Director of Aggie ACHIEVE; Matthew presents a vision board to his classmates; Lexi and Anna attend a freshman seminar taught by Dr. Carly Gilson.

‘Bigger than just myself’

Anna’s professor, Dr. Gilson, admires the journey her student is on. “She’s really passionate about special education, and even more than that, she’s passionate about helping people and making the world a better place.” 

Anna doesn’t approach inclusion as something that should begin and end at the school doors. Or something that is simply a nice thing to pursue. She knows that perceptions and discrimination of those with disabilities extend into every aspect of life. Changing that begins by empowering these students with a strong education and encouragement to follow their dreams — the same thing everyone wants and deserves.

“They are just so determined and they have so much that they want to give and so much that they can give. I think often we say, “That’s great,” and we celebrate that, but then we don’t actually do what needs to be done to make that happen … These students can be teachers. They can be filmmakers. As a society, we should encourage that, and we should open those opportunities for them.

Anna’s friend, Matthew, who is part of the Aggie ACHIEVE program, wants just that – to be an animator or filmmaker. Anna says he will be. And society needs to acknowledge and support those goals.

When asked what he wants people to think of him, Matthew says, “What I want them to know is how significant I am. I’m one of the few people who can do lots of things that no one else can do.”

Working with A&M and the Aggie ACHIEVE program has shown Anna the power of her impact. I’m being challenged and I’m being shown what my path is and what my purpose is.

“It’s just my heart was so into it and it is what I look forward to. I realized this is my calling, this is what it feels like to understand your purpose is just doing something you love and not even having to think about it.”

“She’s going to be a phenomenal teacher. She will also be an advocate, a researcher, and a uniter,” said Dr. Gilson.  

Dr. Olivia Hester, Program Director of Aggie ACHIEVE, says, “I can’t wait to see where [Anna] goes in life because I know she is just going to be at the very top. I think we’re all going to know her name.”