Rogers turns passion for people with disabilities into lasting impact

· 4 min read

Rogers turns passion for people with disabilities into lasting impact

Jenna Rogers smiles while holding hands with a smiling young girl at the Everybody Plays Mini Camp (Husker Athletics)
Husker Athletics
Jenna Rogers smiles while holding hands with a smiling young girl at the Everybody Plays Mini Camp.

Long before she was climbing the all-time leaderboard in the high jump at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Jenna Rogers was developing a passion for working with people with disabilities in her hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey.

As she prepares to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, Rogers has left her mark by turning that passion into an annual camp and research that will continue to make an impact at the university and in the Lincoln community for years to come.

Rogers explored several career options that would allow her to work with people with disabilities. She settled on speech-language pathology.

“I stuck with speech-language pathology because I specifically wanted to be an advocate for people with disabilities being listened to and heard,” Rogers said. “Speech-language pathologists help people with disabilities use their voice and share their brilliant ideas.”

When she arrived at Nebraska, Rogers saw an opening to build an athletics camp involving Husker student-athletes working one-on-one with people with disabilities in the Lincoln community. She had volunteered at a similar event during high school and wanted to bring that experience to Nebraska. While her dream is for it to grow to as many sports as possible, Rogers started with her own sport, track and field.

“I started the Everybody Plays Mini Camp two years ago, and it has become a great environment for people with disabilities and my teammates who volunteer,” Rogers said. “This program has now expanded to soccer, and we hope to expand to as many sports as possible.”

In 2022, shortly after the Everybody Plays Camp was developed, Ciara Ousley was preparing to return to Nebraska as an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders. While listening to a podcast, she heard Rogers discussing the camp she had created. As a former Husker swimmer now doing research on supporting social communication for young children with autism and other developmental disabilities, Ousley immediately recognized an opportunity to collaborate with Rogers.

“I was so impressed with Jenna as I was listening to her talk about the Everybody Plays Mini Camp on the podcast,” Ousley said. “When we met, we immediately clicked over our shared passions of autism, communication and sport. Seeing her passion, enthusiasm and impressive work ethic, I pitched a research idea to her that combined our three overlapping passions.”

From that meeting, Rogers began doing research with Ousley through Nebraska’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences program.

“I wanted to participate in UCARE to step out of my comfort zone and truly try something new,” Rogers said. “I was unaware that I could participate in research during my undergraduate studies, and when Dr. Ousley reached out, I knew I wanted to work under such a wonderful and inspiring woman in a similar field who was also a student-athlete.”

The two developed a project that combined their passions of athletics and working with people with disabilities. The research revolved around educating student-athletes on how to best interact with people with disabilities in sport.

“This is our way of giving back to the school and athletic department by creating a resource to help student-athletes create the best environment for people with disabilities when participating in sporting activities here at the university,” Rogers said.

Now that the UCARE project is finished, Rogers and Ousley hope to create a video resource for student-athletes to view in preparation for disability-focused sporting events so participants and their families have the best experience possible.

As for her own future, Rogers looks forward to a career in speech-language pathology with her ultimate goal to create higher education for people with disabilities to learn skills that correspond to jobs that give livable wages.

“I hope that I can advocate for people with disabilities getting job opportunities that pay a livable wage,” she said. “I’ve seen over and over again the variety of incredible skills that people with disabilities possess, that when given the right resources, can turn into something incredible. I hope I can create a higher education that highlights these skills and translates into great opportunities for people with disabilities.”

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