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Mequon — Bethesda College's first class of students graduated with Concordia University of Wisconsin (CUW) students May 14 at the university's campus in Mequon.

The seven students were the first class of the two-year Bethesda College program for individuals with developmental disabilities.

They received a certificate of applied learning.

This postsecondary program is the only one in Wisconsin that brings together a national service provider for those with developmental disabilities and the learning environment of an accredited university, according to a news release.

'Our partnership with Concordia is a real opportunity to make sure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have every opportunity to be as independent as possible and to make choices on how to live the lives they want,' said Mike Thirtle, Bethesda president and CEO.

Bethesda College graduates can get internships and job opportunities just as other college graduates are able to do.

'I'm extremely excited about my future and I now want to go to culinary school. The program gave me the skills and confidence that I need to be successful,' said graduate Thomas Scandrett, 24, of Mequon.

Kristen Van Handel, a 24-year-old Bethesda College graduate from Mequon, said she is a 'stronger, better human being' because of the program and she is very grateful for it.

'During the two years I learned how to be independent, taking different classes. It helped me begin to prepare for a job, prepare for the real world,' she said.

'A lot of it was getting out of my comfort zone; that was really huge and exciting for me.'

Bethesda was founded more than 110 years ago by Lutherans who 'wanted to connect their hearts of faith with hands of service by serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,' the release said. Both

Bethesda and CUW are linked with the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS).

'We look forward to working with Bethesda to continue to refine this program to have a greater impact on our communities,' said William Cario PhD, Concordia senior vice president of academics.

Visit bethesda-college.org for more information or contact Carol Burns, director of Bethesda College at (847) 224-0637 or carol.burns@cuw.edu.

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