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Moyes College of Education


His dream: To make a difference

Jeshua with Special Olympics participant

During the World Winter Games, Team Romania gifted Van Sickle with the carved Special Olympics necklace he proudly wears. “I never take it off,” he says.

Jeshua being named Newman Civic Fellow

The Newman Civic Fellow Awards honor extraordinary college students who demonstrate a commitment to solving problems in communities across the country. Fellows are nominated by college and university presidents who are members of Campus Compact, a national organization committed to fulfilling the public purpose of higher education. 

From Ogden, Iowa to Ogden, Utah to Graz, Austria

March 2017 was a good month for WSU junior and athletic therapy major Jeshua Van Sickle. In his words, “It was incredible.” It began with him presenting a grant proposal at the Special Olympics Winter World Games in Graz, Austria, and ended with him being named a Newman Civic Fellow.

Originally from Ogden, Iowa, Van Sickle transferred from Iowa State University to Weber State in 2015. “I grew up in a family with eight siblings, and we were pretty well known in our town,” he says. “I wanted to go where I could trek things out on my own, where I could find me for me.” Van Sickle has volunteered and interned with Special Olympics Iowa and Utah since his freshman year and has immersed himself in almost every aspect of the organization — from coaching, to event planning, to business management.

In 2016, he helped the Utah chapter successfully write a grant to Special Olympics International to create more opportunities for Special Olympics athletes to interact with students in local schools.

“There’s a saying that Special Olympics coaches don’t realize they’re the ones being coached. That’s so true,” Van Sickle says. “You get so much benefit and don’t even know it. But when you do realize it, you think, ‘Wow, why isn’t everyone doing this, and why haven’t I been doing this my whole life?’”

These superheros Wear CAPES!


The number of hours WSU students and interns have volunteered with CAPES! since its inception in 2013. Students work with the children; interns work behind the scenes to prepare weekly programs, social events and the graduation celebration.

Over four years, more than 60 different children have filled 249 available slots. Many children, like Bryson, have enrolled in multiple semesters.

Angie Van Leeuwen watches her son Bryson, age 9½, from across the Swenson Gymnasium. For a moment he holds his ears — there are children playing a variety of games, and it’s incredibly loud — as he and a few other kids have fun with the balloons decorating the walls.  

Bryson has pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified, or PDD-NOS, one of the four autism spectrum disorders. He is in his seventh semester of Weber State’s CAPES! program. Also known as the Children’s Adaptive Physical Education Society!, CAPES! runs for 10 weeks in the fall and spring. It pairs Weber State students one-on-one with children ages 5-12 who have developmental and/or physical disabilities. 

Children participate in swimming and other activities, which are aimed toward helping them reach their optimal independence..

Angie sees Bryson running around and smiles. “He’s made huge steps in the last three years,” she says. “He makes eye contact. He reciprocates communication. He no longer throws fits. CAPES! has really helped him train his behavior to handle anger and frustration. He’s covering his ears right now because he’s sensitive to noise, but he’s handling it.” 

James Zagrodnik, a WSU assistant professor of physical education, and Natalie Williams, an associate professor of teacher education, run CAPES! Students in two of their courses — Adaptive Physical Education and Human Exceptionality — work to grow each child’s social interactions, balance, dexterity, motor skills, strength and fitness. 

Angie says she and Bryson have both been blessed by CAPES!

“What I love about the program is no one knows what the other children’s disabilities are,” she says. “We’re just all on the ladder working our way up, and I love how they don’t label the children. Bryson loves it and asks for CAPES! every semester. I say, ‘Bryson, are you sure? There are kids on the waiting list to get in,’ but he says, ‘Mom, please I just love it.’ It’s the one thing he absolutely adores.”

Mowing with Meaning

Jared Abney was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. A struggling reader, he began to hate school. In high school, it was football that kept him going, that and his job as a teacher’s aide in a classroom for students with severe disabilities. “I knew then that I wanted to work with individuals with special needs as my career,” he says.

Today, Abney, a WSU alumnus, works in an elementary special education behavior unit. He took his desire to work with individuals with special needs to a new level in 2016, when he established Mentor Mowing.

A service-based, nonprofit lawn-care company that hires and trains individuals ages 12 and older with varying disabilities to mow residential and commercial lawns, Mentor Mowing helps its employees learn new skills and find success.

Mentor Mowing is now in its second lawn care season. While clients pay a weekly rate for services, it’s not enough to sustain the organization. Abney relies on donations and grants. In 2016, after seeing a newspaper article on Mentor Mowing, James Zagrodnik, a WSU assistant professor of physical education, and Natalie Williams, an associate professor of teacher education, who run CAPES!, reached out to Abney and made him aware of grants available through WSU’s Alan E. and Jeanne N. Hall Endowment for Community Outreach. Abney applied and received a Hall grant.

“It was amazing and was the next step in Mentor Mowing being able to hire and train more individuals with special needs,” Abney says.


The number of crew members Mentor Mowing employs

Jared Abney giving a client tips on mowing technique


The number of clients Mentor Mowing has in its second season, up 17 from the first season


Touting Teachers

In an effort to increase enrollment in the Weber State Teacher Education program and address a statewide teacher shortage, WSU spent the 2016-17 academic year highlighting the benefits of teaching while also dispelling myths and negative rhetoric surrounding the profession. A two-minute video spearheaded the campaign, going viral worldwide on Facebook to the tune of 300,000 views and 75,000 engagements (likes, comments and shares). 

Other efforts included bus wraps, Wildcat magazine stories, mailers, an All-Star Teacher Night at a WSU men’s basketball game, a yearlong Twitter thank-you campaign and a private screening of Star Wars: Rogue One for WSU Teacher Education alumni. The Moyes College of Education also partnered with the Utah Council of Education Deans to create a WSU-branded teacher education commercial, which aired on KSL-TV in the spring of 2017.


The number of impressions generated on Facebook by WSU’s Be a Teacher video, the most popular social media post ever created by WSU