Young people from diverse background paddling a large canoe on a big river. The weather is sunny and warm.

Proposals are being accepted for the Jason David Schleien Memorial Scholarship, a semester-long, stipend-supported internship in the field of social inclusion for people with disabilities, disadvantaged youth, and other underrepresented populations. The $3,000 stipend program, which recently became organizationally housed at the Institute, supports students in the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development who will work with Wilderness Inquiry or a similar organization. 

Wilderness Inquiry is a Twin Cities-based non-profit organization providing inclusive adventure travel experiences for people with and without disabilities.

“We are honored to be part of this internship in memory of Jason Schleien,” said Julie Edmiston, associate executive director of the organization. “We have a variety of opportunities that can be tailored to fit the goals of the selected student. Someone with a strong therapeutic recreation background, for example, might assess how our trips impact daily living, or how we could better serve families experiencing disability. Someone interested in working with urban youth could help prepare for our summer programs, observe and be a part of them, and help evaluate outcomes.”

Stuart and Dana Schleien created the scholarship with donated funds from friends and family following the death of their first child, Jason, in 1990. Born in May of that year, with multiple physical and developmental disabilities, Jason lived short of one month, but his legacy changed the course of his family members’ lives, and has made an impact on the careers of dozens of professionals in the disability field.

When Jason was born, Stuart was an associate professor in the University’s School of Kinesiology and Leisure Studies and already had significant experience working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through therapeutic recreation and inclusive service delivery. He later became a full professor, before leaving for the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where he remains today. He is a professor and chair of the Department of Community and Therapeutic Recreation. He also serves as executive director for InFocus Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that works with self-advocates, families, and communities to enhance the image of people living with a disability, and has authored seven books and more than 125 journal articles and book chapters on the social inclusion of people with disabilities.

“Jason changed my life, not only in becoming a father, but also in what I learned about the importance of working with families,” Stuart said. “Dana and I lived with our son in the NICU throughout his short life, which provided me with many opportunities to observe new moms and dads who were learning about living with a disability. I had already known through my professional work what life would be like for Jason if, in fact, he graduated from the NICU; which he never did. It was devastating to contemplate. Shortly after Jason passed away, I came close to leaving the field.”

Instead, as a volunteer, he counseled other fathers of children who had passed away or were living with a disability, which led him to also shift his scholarly focus. His research began to center on social inclusion that involved entire families, and not solely on individuals with disabilities.

Today, Dana and Stuart’s two daughters, Jenna and Alexa, both work in helping professions. Jenna is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in New York City, and Alexa is a teacher working with immigrants and refugees at the high school level in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We’ve had scholarship recipients go on to earn their degrees, including a few PhDs from the fields of nursing, special education, kinesiology, outdoor education, and therapeutic recreation,” he said. “Jason’s impact has been profound.”