By Steve Lestarjette
HCC has an acclaimed program that helps nearly 200 individuals a year with intellectual and developmental disabilities find meaningful employment and independence.
The VAST Academy, acronym for Vocational Advancement and Skills Training, provides post-secondary transition programs and comprehensive support services which lead to meaningful credentials, employment and independence for differently-abled individuals.
Opportunities include vocational certificates, pre-college and freshman success bridge courses, career readiness credentials, internships and employment assistance offered through an inclusive, relevant and affordable avenue.
With training and support, VAST Academy students advance into internships and long-lasting jobs with some of the region’s most progressive companies.
Eligible students are between ages 18 and 25, are able to function independently in a classroom setting, follow the College Code of Student Conduct, and meet the minimum academic achievement levels required for a chosen program.
“Training and support help students achieve new skills and gain personal self-confidence,” said VAST Academy founding director Sue Moraska. “They can have competitive employment, live independently and be in charge of their own futures. Our students prove our motto true: Education + Employment = Independence.”
The Academy reaches beyond the HCC campuses through strong partnerships with more than 80 companies and organizations that provide internships, participation on the program advisory committee, and potential employment for graduates.
Students are continually engaged in activities and service opportunities across the community. Recent activities have included the NCAA Final Four Fan Fest, tours of area universities such as the University of Houston, and projects for Miller Outdoor Theater, the Museum of Natural Science, Discovery Green, Gulf Coast Regional Blood drives, Toys for Tots, Earth Day, and the activities and events such as the Eagle Club, Ability Day, and the Health and Beauty Expo.
In 2015, the VAST Academy was recognized by the Texas House of Representatives for its 25 years of service and leadership in the state consortium Access College Texas. That same year, the Academy was named a finalist for the the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s STAR Award.
Since it began in 1995, the VAST Academy has served more than 4,000 students. Of these, 75% successfully completed a career-readiness certificate and 65% found employment. Approximately 15% moved on to “credit” certificates and degrees.
The Academy offers students the choice of four credentials, depending on abilities.
Occupational Skills/Career Readiness Certificate
The Occupational Skills Certificate Program is a two-year career readiness workforce credential, offering courses that enhance functional reading, math and writing. Students develop basic computer/financial literacy and human relations skills for the workplace.
Office Skills Training
The Office Skills Training Certificate Program offers customized training to prepare students with disabilities for work in an office environment. Students are trained for entry-level positions in the following areas: office assistants, receptionist, filing and mail clerks.
This two-term course prepares students for a job in the retail field. Students learn a range of technical, practical and organizational skills valued in the workplace and society. Classroom instruction is offered through an online component and a supervised hands-on workplace experience with a local employer.
Work-Keys Career Readiness Credential
This instructor-led course and online training module prepares students to receive the American College Testing (ACT) Work-keys Career Readiness Credential which helps employers elect, hire, train, develop and retain a high performing workforce.
The VAST Academy has programs on three HCC campuses. For information, contact the campus nearest you.
1300 Holman, Houston, TX 77004
Sue Moraska, Director, VAST Academy
Spring Branch Campus
Sammy Leaston, VAST Program Director
Missouri City Campus
Francine Melton-Bryant, VAST Program Director