Guide Dog Mobility Program Emerges
SF State offers world's first master's degree program with Guide Dogs for the Blind
October 4, 2005 12:56 PM
Without her canine companion, Andrea Drago would be completely lost as she stumbles around blindfolded with her arm out to detect obstacles.
Drago is one of two students participating in the world’s first master’s degree program in guide dog mobility at SF State.
“The population of blind people who use guide dogs is changing," Rosen said. "There are not just blind people using guide dogs, but now they are serving people with low vision, and senior citizens who have disabilities in addition to blindness. We are the first university to rise to the challenge."
Drago and Michael McDonald are the only two fortunate candidates to be enrolled in the program’s first semester. There were several applicants, but Drago and McDonald were the two best candidates interviewed for the demanding course.
The students must become proficient in all areas of guide dog mobility, including working in kennels, feeding and grooming the dogs and doing on-site observations of veterinarian clinics.
“Honestly, every single day has challenged me with something new," McDonald said.
Drago, a 22-year-old undergraduate of California Polytechnic State University, is excited to see what opportunities the program will create in her future and hopes to be employed as an instructor at the Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit organization based in San Rafael, has completely financed the program and it also awards its students a $12,000 scholarship for the two-year course. The full-time program requires its students to attend hands-on training sessions at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus five times a week and attend one evening lecture a week at SF State.
“There are a lot of hands on mileage with handling dogs ... not just learning from books and writing papers," Rosen said. "It’s hands on from the beginning with dogs and clients for two years."
McDonald, who found out about the new guide dogs program earlier this winter, has a strict schedule to follow each week for the next two years, which is exhausting for the 32-year-old who recently moved from Santa Clara to an apartment near the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus.
“I find that it is very inspiring that the dogs I’m working with in the kennels are going to be working with people who are blind or have other disabilities,” McDonald said.
Rosen and Kelly keeping their fingers crossed for the future of the program, and hope to admit more than two students for their next enrollment.
“We have gobs of interest, and I hope to expand the program – take in more folks, set up additional classes, and collaborate with other dog guide schools throughout the country,” Rosen said.
Rosen hopes to generate more student interest in the Guide Dog Mobility Program before the October 15 deadline for spring enrollment since the announcement for the first semester of the program was short notice.
“We are currently accepting applications for next year," Rosen said. "We have six slots open and we’re hoping to fill them."
For more information, visit Online.sfsu.edu/~guidedog/
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