First TerpsEXCEED Graduates Look Toward a Bright Future

UMD Program Helps Students with Intellectual Disabilities Build Confidence, Skills, Friendships
Hari Kannan '23 (left) and Zach McKay '23, the first Terps EXCEED graduates

Whenever Amy Dwyre D’Agati walked across McKeldin Mall with her student Hari Kannan ’23, she would always need a little extra time to get to her destination. That was because fellow students would constantly stop Kannan along the way to say hello. And she rarely met a performing arts student who didn’t know Zach McKay ’23, either from his campus job at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center or his roles in student-run musicals.

Hari Kannan ’23
Hari Kannan​​​​​
Favorite classes: Communication and well-being classes
One thing he loved about college: “I loved the community of TerpsEXCEED [and] the family I created there.”
Plans for after graduation: Working toward his GED and starting a Best Buddies Jobs program for people with intellectual disabilities

This week, Kannan and McKay became the first two students to graduate from TerpsEXCEED (EXperiencing College for Education and Employment Discovery), a two-year college experience for students with intellectual disabilities. During their two years at UMD, Kannan and McKay fully embraced the college experience. They lived on campus, attended classes and activities, worked in campus jobs aligned with their interests and cultivated time management skills and lasting friendships.

As they prepared to walk across the stage to receive their certificates at Commencement, McKay and Kannan glowed with pride as they recalled their accomplishments. 

“I am most proud of being in the first TerpsEXCEED graduating class and paving the way for the next class,” said McKay.

“I am proud of being able to complete college,” Kannan added. “I’m so proud of myself overall.”

“Hari and Zach were trailblazers who helped guide how we developed the program,” said D’Agati, director and founder of TerpsEXCEED and senior faculty specialist in the College of Education’s Center for Transition and Career Innovation.

Zach McKay '23
Zach McKay
Favorite class: Foundations of Acting and Performance
One thing he loved about college: “Going to the games and sitting in the student section.”
Plans for after graduation: “I’m working in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. I love theater, and this is a dream job for me.”

“They’ve grown so much in terms of becoming more confident and independent, developing social networks and becoming really good self-advocates.”

As the two graduates leave UMD, D’Agati hopes they will use what they’ve learned to pursue job opportunities of their choice and to build lives they truly enjoy. And her other hope? “That they visit us a lot because for me, these two years went by too fast.”

TerpsEXCEED was launched with funds from the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council and is currently funded through the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration and donor gifts by Ellen Gaske ’75, Paul Gaske ’76 and Alison Clarvit ’13, M.Ed. ’14, with additional partnership support from the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services.