Lifelong Learning with Friends

Welcome to

Lifelong Learning with Friends

A postsecondary education program aimed at adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Originating on the University of Texas at Austin (UT) campus in 2010, Lifelong Learning With Friends (LLWF) provides adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) access to stimulating, diverse and fun post-secondary education opportunities. Our courses are reverse inclusion, meaning that neurotypical UT college students will learn and have fun alongside their neurodiverse peers. Since the pandemic, we now operate under the parent nonprofit organization Joshua’s Stage. We continue to host in-person courses on UT campus and recruit hundreds of UT volunteers annually.

The skills obtained through the LLWF courses help adults with IDDs achieve their potential for independence, productivity, and community integration. Students will learn how to follow multi-step directions, be accountable for their work, take direction, self-advocate and how to express themselves in a professional manner. The ability to communicate with a variety of people is an essential tool for improving social skills, access to their community, and employment potential. LLWF gives students with IDDs the opportunity to hone and practice these skills that they will carry with them long after the course concludes. 

We are excited to offer both in-person and virtual courses this summer! See the university’s health behavior guidance for the most current information on who should mask and when. Students are encouraged but not required to wear masks during in-person classes.  Please check Protect Texas website for up-to-date information regarding staying safe during the Covid pandemic

Lifelong Learning with Friends – An Inclusive Education Program Aimed at Adults with Disabilities

Fall 2023 Schedule:
Classes, Instructors, Dates, and Times
(Central Standard Time)

Descriptions and Registration for
Fall 2023 Classes
(All in Central Standard Time)

Adrenaline Junkies: Why We Like To Be Scared [In Person]
Taught by Mandi Severson, Tuesdays, 09/12/23 to 10/17/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Do you like scary movies, haunted houses, roller coasters, or anything that gets your blood pumping? Have you dreamed of skydiving or bungee jumping? If so, this class is for you! One of our most primal, instinctive emotions is fear. In our brains, fear signals tell us that we are in danger so that we can either fight back or get away. Why do some people seek out that feeling? In a safe setting, we will discuss the science of how fear is different from stress, anxiety, and panic. Prepare for the thrill of your life in this exciting new course aimed for adrenaline junkies, science buffs, and people who just love to have fun.
Click Here to Enroll

Konnichiwa! Adventures Through Japan [In Person]
Taught by Alisa Ishikawa, Wednesdays, 9/13/23 to 10/18/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Anime, origami, mochi, and more! Does Japanese culture and food interest you? Have you everwondered how to write your own name in Japanese or how cool it would be to be a ninja or samurai? Then come join us in a Japanese culture class where we will explore all thingsJapan, from the country’s language, entertainment, snacks, to more! We will embark in ajourney through Japan’s history to learn about its unique and beautiful traditions. Pick up onsome Japanese phrases through our weekly “Japanese of the Week” segments, and impressyour friends with new skills through our weekly origami activities. Even if you know nothing about Japan, after taking this class, it’ll be sure to be top on your travel wish list! Domo Arigato!
Click Here to Enroll

Fun with History: Classic Disney and Looney Tunes Cartoons [Virtual]
Taught by Lori Duran, Thursdays, 9/14/23 to 10/19/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Do you enjoy classic Disney and Looney Tunes cartoons? We invite you to join us for Fun with History: Classic Disney and Looney Tunes Cartoons! Over the six-week course, we will study some classic Disney animated movies such as: Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Tim, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians and the Jungle Book  along with classic Looney Tunes & Merry Melodies cartoon shorts such as What’s Opera Doc? and Rabbit Fire. Students will learn about the history of animation while analyzing elements of story development and animation techniques. During each class, we will watch fun short sections from well-loved Disney classic feature films or cartoon shorts followed by collaborative class discussions. Grab your popcorn and get ready to revisit some old favorites with friends.
Click Here to Enroll

Adulting 101: The Road to Independence [Virtual]
Taught by Priya Mahableshwarkar

Sundays, 09/17/23 to 10/22/23, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. CST
Many of us dream of living in our own home, separate from our families, finally living by our own rules. But what does being a successful and independent adult look like? Join us in our newest self-development course: Adulting 101: The Road to Independence. In this course, students will learn the fundamentals of what living independently entails: grocery planning, setting and sticking to a routine, how to deal with conflict with your potential roommates, how to host social events in their home, and more. Students will also learn about different services, such as grocery delivery services and the public transportation system, that can enhance their potential to be productive and self-sufficient. Imagine your toilet breaks or you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and in need of someone to talk to. In these situations, it’s important to have a plan and be prepared to ask for help. We will work together to identify common scenarios where assistance may be needed and discuss strategies to handle them effectively.
Click Here to Enroll

Saddle Up! All About Horses [Virtual]
Taught by Susan Rozmiarek, Sundays, 09/17/23 to 08/17/23, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST

From battlefields of ancient Rome to modern day cattle ranches, horses have been a part of our lives for centuries for both work and pleasure. In this class we’ll be taking a look at everything equine!  Did you know that Mulan’s horse “Khan” from the Disney movie was likely based on an ancient Chinese horse breed that is now extinct? We’ll learn all about the different breeds of horses from fuzzy Shetland ponies to giant draft horses. We’ll watch equine athletes compete with their human riders in exciting sporting events like rodeos, races and the Olympic Games. Together we’ll examine the many jobs of horses, both past and present. We’ll take a look at how horses are depicted in art, movies and books and discuss how our favorite fictional horses compare to real life horses. Lastly, we’ll learn the benefits of interacting with horses and discover local opportunities to participate in equestrian programs for people with disabilities.
Click Here to Enroll

Hablamos Español! Spanish Language and Culture [Virtual]
Taught by Kimber Hageman

Tuesdays, 10/24/23 to 12/12/23 (skipping 10/31 and 11/21), 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
As the second most spoken language in the U.S., learning Spanish is a great way to be able to connect with others and meet new friends. In this class, students will learn basic conversational Spanish, such as introducing themselves, ordering food, and talking about their interests while virtually traveling all over the Spanish speaking world, including Spain, México, Cuba, Costa Rica, Chile, and Puerto Rico. Each week, we will dive deep into Spanish language and culture through local cuisine, national holidays, music, dance, movies and more!
Click Here to Enroll

Music and the Way It Makes Us Feel [In Person]
Taught by Dhruva Athreya

Wednesdays, 10/25/23 to 12/6/23 (skipping 11/22), 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
Music has been part of human culture since the dawn of civilization. We often turn to music in times of great happiness, sadness, and everything in between. Artists pour their emotions into music and that emotion transfers onto us listeners, impacting how we listen and how we view the world. In this class, we will be delving into different music genres each week, with each session culminating with a different live, in-person performance in class. We will be exploring the messages that different artists want to convey, the ways that music makes us feel, and what our own interpretation of the music is. We will be bringing in various artists from different musical backgrounds to not only play a piece but also to explain what the piece is about and how it makes them feel. We will also discuss different themes across genres and how these themes came about through their historical context. Join us in exploring different musical disciplines and discovering the ways that they can expand our horizons and help us enjoy life to its fullest.
Click Here to Enroll

Motivation, Goal Setting and Achieving Your Dreams [Virtual]
Taught by Emily Yisa
Wednesdays, 10/25/23 to 12/6/23 (skipping 11/22), 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST
We all have dreams. Some of us may have big, long-term dreams like having a job we love, living independently, or traveling the world. Some of us may have smaller, short-term dreams like eating healthier, living a happier life through learning new hobbies, or volunteering once a week at a charity we care about. In this class, students will improve their self-advocacy and self-determination skills as they learn all about motivation, goal setting, and how these things may help them reach their dreams! Students will explore their interests and will identify one goal they want to achieve (e.g., planning a trip or finding a job). They will learn how to set goals that are specific and achievable, and each student will be supported to come up with a personalized plan to help achieve their goal. By the end of this class students will have increased knowledge on motivation and how to set realistic goals to help take steps to achieve dreams, no matter how big or small. Get ready to get motivated, set goals, and have a plan to help reach your dreams!
Click Here to Enroll

Convenience Cooking: Asian Cuisine [In Person]
Taught by Kaelin Rubenzer

Thursdays, 10/26/23 to 12/7/23 (skipping 11/23), 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., CST
We all love Asian food… Why not learn how to cook it yourself? Join us for our newest edition of Convenience Cooking: Asian Cuisine! Students will learn to make their favorite Asian dishes at home, such as dumplings, fried rice, spring rolls, lettuce wraps and more. Some of us may already be expert chefs, others may just now starting out their culinary careers, but all are welcome! Students will learn all the basics of the kitchen: reading recipes, kitchen hygiene, serving others and more. Convenience Cooking will encourage students to roll up their sleeves and try their hand at making inventive and healthier versions of the recipe concept they already know and love. Students will also practice basic math and writing skills as we build a collaborative class cookbook to use and inspire long after the class ends.  Are you gluten or dairy-free? No problem! Accommodating substitutions will be included. Students will need to bring an additional $30 to cover the cost of appliances and ingredients for the course. Come hungry!
Click Here to Enroll

In Our Universe and Beyond: Diabolical Heroes and Villains [Virtual]
Taught by Kevin Gilbert
Sundays, 10/29/23 to 12/10/23 (skipping 11/26), 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. CST

In the fight of good vs. evil, the hero almost always comes out on top. But every great superhero has one or many villains that they face to save their city, and sometimes the world, from devastation. Have you ever wondered what makes a villain act the way they do? Are all villains truly evil? In this class we will learn about some of the most infamous villains and their diabolical plots to change the world. While some villains throughout literature act out of malicious intent, others feel that what they are doing is what is best for humanity. In this class, we will examine common character traits found in villains across a variety of popular literature including books, movies, and comics. We will take in-depth looks into the backstories of some of the most famous fictional villains throughout history and identify the key events that made them who they are!
Click Here to Enroll

Our program has thrived from the help of over 1,500 University of Texas at Austin volunteers.

Our UT volunteers attend class, learning alongside our adults with IDDs and paving the way for inclusion, acceptance, and belonging in higher education institutions. Many of our UT volunteers are studying pre-medicine, social work, education, or research-track disciplines. Their experience volunteering can help better inform how to support people with IDD and will inspire IDD advocacy in their future professions.

Ready to volunteer? Review our exciting line-up of courses and sign up below.

Want to Learn More About Our Program? Here’s Some Helpful Links:

Academic Papers / Published Material About Our Program

PLOS Biology, How Our Program Benefits UT Student Volunteers – Learning science alongside peers with intellectual and developmental disabilities | PLOS Biology

EdArXiv, How to Replicate Our Program Outside of UT / Austin –

Fall 2023 Instructors

Mandi Severson loves all things biology. She has a Bachelor’s in Biology and Human Physiology from the University of Oregon, and she’s in her fifth year of graduate school at UT Austin. She’s currently working on a PhD in Neuroscience, and more specifically, she studies the visual system. She’s been volunteering with LLWF since 2019 and has greatly enjoyed getting to know the students and learning about topics ranging from the history of Austin to the history of alcoholic beverages. When she’s not in the research lab, she loves to go to concerts and go hiking. Her favorite places to hike are National Parks – she’s been to 10 out of the 63 National Parks and hopes to visit all of them someday!

Alisa Ishikawa  is currently a student at the University of Texas at Austin studying Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. She has worked with children and adults with disabilities for 7 years, beginning with her involvement with Best Buddies in high school. She began volunteering with LLWF in 2022 and has enjoyed learning alongside students and making new friends. Her Fall course, Konnichiwa! Adventures Through Japan, will be the first class she has instructed with LLWF. She is very excited to share the rich history and culture of her family’s home country, Japan, where she spent her summers growing up. Outside of school and volunteering, Alisa loves hiking and spending time outdoors with her pug, Monica. Alisa also loves food, especially Japanese cuisine, which she hopes to incorporate into her class this fall. She cannot wait to meet you all!

Lori Duran loves history and the joy of a good story. She has a Bachelors in History and a Masters in Latin American Studies and Business Admin from UT Austin. She captures history with photos and tales in her work including her new book “The University of Texas at Austin: The First One Hundred Years”. She is also a proud mother of an adult with autism and has brought history alive for adults with IDDs over years with our program.

Priya Mahableshwarkar is currently a student at the University of Texas at Austin studying Neuroscience with a minor in Anthropology! In high school, Priya was involved in an initiative that helped local students on the autism spectrum connect with students in her high school on a 1-on-1 level. She fell in love with working with neurodivergent individuals and has been volunteering with LLWF since 2021! In her free time, Priya loves to crochet, scout Austin for the best matcha latte, and make digital art.

Susan Rozmiarek has been teaching evening classes for adults with IDDs for over five years. While not teaching or at her day job in a neuroscience research lab at the University of Texas, she can be found enjoying one of her many hobbies. These include hiking, gardening, vegetarian cooking and playing board and computer games.

Kimber Hageman is currently a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas pursuing a double major in Spanish and Health Sciences. I have really enjoyed working with Joshua’s Stage for the past 3 years while I am here in Austin. The community of adults with IDDs is close to my heart due to my Uncle Roy, who I grew up visiting in group homes and at the Denton State School. In Conway, I love working at a local preschool, being a counselor for weekend camps at Camp Aldersgate (a really cool inclusive camp), and volunteering with respite care and after school programs for children with disabilities. I am passionate about becoming fluent in Spanish and have studied abroad in Madrid, Spain over the summer. In my free time, I love spending time with family, watching movies, and practicing tarot. I have enjoyed volunteering with LLWF and am excited to teach my first class!

Dhruva Athreya is a student at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. He has 10 years of experience working with adults with IDDs in recreational support, caregiving, and in the classroom. He worked at Camp CAMP, a summer camp for children and adults with IDDs for many years and continues to volunteer with the organization. He has also worked as a special education paraprofessional. He has volunteered and taught classes through Lifelong Learning with friends for 7 years. In his free time, he enjoys being outdoors, camping and playing sports. He also enjoys playing the guitar and dancing. 

Emily Yisa has 10 years of experience working with individuals with IDDs. She has volunteered and taught classes through UT’s Informal Classes for adults with IDDs. She started a book club for adults with Down syndrome through DSACT in 2013 and continues to facilitate it today. Emily taught life skills for 6 years at Crockett Early College High School. In 2017 Emily received her 200 hour yoga certification. Emily is excited to combine her love of yoga and her passion of working with individuals with IDDs! 

Kaelin Rubenzer, Director of Lifelong Learning with Friends, is a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and has worked with adults with disabilities in vocational and educational settings for over 8 years. Kaelin also works full-time as a neuroscience researcher studying autism and Fragile X disorder. After volunteering more than any other volunteer in the program, Kaelin began teaching courses ranging from The Beatles, Forensic Science, Fancy Drinks, Adaptive Outdoor Activities and more. Kaelin loves to cook, bake challenging pastries, crochet, drink tea, and spend time with her cats Tonka, Tammie and Snickle. 

Kevin Gilbert is a big sports enthusiast, both playing and watching. His favorite sport is basketball. He has a Master’s in Special Education from the University of Oregon and has been teaching at Kealing Middle School for 3+ years in east Austin. He specifically works with kids that need social, emotional, and/or behavioral support. He has been volunteering with LLWF since 2019 and is looking forward to teaching his own class. For fun, he enjoys hiking, playing video games, and spending time with his dog, Stella, and his wife. 

Contact us:

Please do not hesitate to reach out to with any questions and concerns, and Kaelin Rubenzer, Director of Lifelong Learning with Friends, will be in touch with you.

Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for elevated and continual learning for all with us! We are excited to meet all of you soon!

Lifelong Learning with Friends Leadership

Dr. Jonathan Pierce, LLWF Program Founder

Dr. Pierce began thinking about PSE issues for adults with IDD after his first child was born with Down syndrome (DS) in 2001. In 2008, Dr. Pierce joined the faculty of the Neuroscience Department of the University of Texas at Austin to perform research and teach neuroscience to undergraduate and graduate students. As his child with DS grew, he was impressed that some K-12 teachers sought to provide more inclusive learning in their academic subjects. He was also inspired by the emergence and national growth of PSE programs for adults with IDD on college campuses. Although he recognized the importance of job training in these PSE programs, Dr. Pierce felt that many PSE programs did not focus on learning for the sake of learning across a broad range of sophisticated academic topics – a goal that many universities and neurotypical students highly value. In addition, he felt that the limited program length of most PSE programs for adults with IDD was inadequate to maintain academic skills into adulthood and to cater to a wider variety of student interests. Dr. Pierce noticed that many adults with IDD in his community were idle, socially isolated, and infantilized. He felt that students enrolled in PSE programs should be offered opportunities to discuss and learn mature topics that are popular with neurotypical college students.   In addition to these areas, Dr. Pierce also observed that many families who have a child with IDD suffered long term worry about the dearth of lifelong educational and social opportunities for their children. Although the budding inclusive PSE movement relieved some parental anxiety, the high cost and short duration of most were not a viable option for cash-strapped families leading to increased anxiety about their child’s future. Dr. Pierce felt that these circumstances were unjust and that his child with IDD and others would want to engage in affordable learning throughout life just as many neurotypical individuals do. In 2010, he began looking at the resources available at his university and conceived the idea for reverse-inclusion continuing education classes aimed at students with IDD.

Kaelin Rubenzer, LLWF Program Director

As the sister and daughter of people with autism, Kaelin was inspired to pursue a career in disability work. In high school, Kaelin volunteered in her schools Life Skills program for young adults with IDDs. Although she enjoyed getting to know her peers with IDDs, Kaelin began to worry about their quality of education and services beyond graduation. Upon her arrival at college, Kaelin sought to combine her love of science with her interest in IDD advocacy. In 2017, Kaelin began volunteering with Lifelong Learning with Friends, meeting hundreds of adults with IDDs throughout the years. After volunteering for over 25 courses, Kaelin began developing her own novel courses, with topics ranging from Forensic Science, Endangered Animals, Cooking and more. In 2020, Kaelin graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience, a certificate in Health Science, and a certificate in Nonprofit Fundraising and Management. She concurrently works as full-time neuroscience researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, leading genetic research about autism and the neurophysiological characteristics of Fragile X disorder. Kaelin also works as a community attendant for children and adults with disabilities, empowering them to achieve their highest potential in productivity and community integration. Kaelin became Director of Lifelong Learning with Friends in 2022 and continues to offer boutique courses each semester.

%d bloggers like this: