JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A program at East Tennessee State University is opening doors and encouraging independence for students with intellectual disabilities.

Garrison Buchanan, a student with Down syndrome, is making history on campus. He is not only the first Access ETSU student, but he is also the first to graduate from the program.

Access ETSU is a unique academic program connecting students with intellectual disabilities to higher education and job opportunities.

“Garrison as our first student has really done a lot to break down barriers and build connections,” said Academic Coordinator for Access ETSU Daniel Sherer-Emunds.

The two-year program is highly tailored to each individual student’s interests and goals. They attend classes alongside every other ETSU student with a structured academic plan and peer mentors to help along the way.

“For me, this program is about giving these folks the opportunity to pursue their dreams like anybody else would,” said Sherer-Emunds.

Garrison told News Channel 11 that choosing a topic to study was easy.

“Sports science. You learn about skills about sports,” said Garrison.

However, it is hard for Garrison to narrow down his one favorite thing about being a Buc.

“Classes and eating lunch and the Cave,” he said.

Garrison’s “BucMate,” or peer mentor, Haley Mullins helps him out in his on-campus job at the Center for Physical Activity (CPA). Mullins says it’s no doubt that Garrison has made an impact at ETSU.

“You can walk anywhere on campus with Garrison and you’ll get stopped 50 times because he knows so many people and so many people know him,” Mullins said with a laugh.

For Garrison, it’s all about sports. That is where he sees his future.

This summer he will keep working at the CPA on campus and has also been hired to work at a Johnson City Parks and Recreation tennis camp. In addition, he will work as a representative for the Access ETSU program.

This fall, he will also remain working in those roles on campus at ETSU.

In the future, his goal is to find other jobs in local sports and recreation.

We asked Garrison what his favorite sport is.

“That’s a good question,” Garrison laughed. “The boy’s and the girl’s.”

Garrison is the first but not the last Access ETSU student. Several of his fellow students are returning alongside some newcomers to the program this fall. That means 22 total students will be a part of Access ETSU.

“Everyone deserves a college experience if they want it. It’s fun to see these students interacting with other students and making friends,” Mullins said.

Mullins encourages others to volunteer to be BucMates and accompany Access students to their classes, jobs, internships and around campus.

Apply here to be a BucMate.

If you would like to support Access ETSU, a benefit concert is being held on May 22 in Asheville, North Carolina.

For details on the “Access the Groove” show and information on how to purchase tickets, click this link.