Former Florida state representative H. Marlene O’Toole will pilot the Center for Innovation & Outreach at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla.
From 2008 to 2016, O’Toole, a Lady Lake Republican, represented District 33 including Sumter County, northern Lake County, and southern Marion County, including Webster, Center Hill, Bushnell, Wildwood, Lady Lake, and The Villages. Beacon College hired her in August to manage several projects. She recently accepted the directorship at the fledgling innovation hub for the college that BestValueSchools.com in its 2017-18 rankings named the No. 1 college or university for students with disabilities. She assumes her post March 1.
The Center for Innovation & Outreach is the school’s new hub for project development and exporting its specialized expertise as America’s first college or university accredited to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences.
The center houses programs including the High School Summer for Success course for students with learning differences, global partnerships with LD educators, and an entrepreneurial incubator for students with learning differences.
Other innovations include the Beacon Certificate, a graduate-level online certificate course for college educators and service providers who serve this population; also, the First Career Community offers postgraduate residential mentoring, employment, and wraparound services for up to two years for graduates who require more time to transition successfully to full independence and the workforce. The program launches this fall.
Before Beacon and the Legislature, O’Toole spent 30 years as a regional manager for IBM Corporation. Transforming attitudes among regional and national employers regarding the ability of individuals with learning differences to contribute to the global marketplace stands among the center’s urgent outcomes, she said.
“Corporations need to know and to participate with employment opportunities,” she said. “For too long, students with learning differences have been misunderstood when it comes to hiring.”