VAST Academy celebrates 25 years


Houston Community College VAST Academy 2016 graduates. Image Courtesy of VAST Academy / HCC.

Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities used to have few options to continue their education after high school.

In 1991, one Houston Community College instructor hoped to change that. She started with offering 55 special needs students an innovative program to help them live full and enriching lives. The HCC Vocational Advancement and Skills Training (VAST) Academy was born.

Sue Moraska was the original instructor. Today, she’s the program director.

“It has been an honor to serve our students and to witness their countless success stories as they achieve their dreams of being independent,” Moraska says. “Our students and alumni continue to overcome challenges proving our motto true that education plus employment equals independence.”

Chancellor Cesar Maldonado, Cheryl Peters, a 2016 VAST Academy Graduate, VAST Academy Director Sue Moraska, XX.

VAST Academy provides post-secondary transition programs and comprehensive support services for students. Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities earn meaningful credentials, and can gain employment and independence. The VAST Academy offers workforce certificates, pre-college and freshman success courses, career readiness credentials, internships and employment assistance.

VAST Academy has served over 2,000 students and is now at four HCC campuses: Central, Spring Branch, Stafford and Missouri City. The staff of 20 graduate on average 35-40 graduates each year.

The VAST Academy will celebrate 25 years of impacting the lives of students on April 7 at 6:30pm at the HCC Central campus auditorium (1300 Holman St., Houston). The event will feature speakers, dinner and dancing.  Proceeds from the event support VAST Academy’s mission of serving students with intellectual disabilities. For more information and tickets to the event, visit:

The keynote speaker at the event will be Lex Frieden who was instrumental in conceiving and drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. He is recognized as one of the founders of the independent living movement by people with disabilities.

Frieden is currently a professor of Health Informatics and Rehabilitation at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Frieden also directs the Independent Living Research Utilization Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann and serves on the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County.

Alumni and student ambassadors will share their stories at the event.

VAST Academy alumna Zeyhla Cruz chose to advocate for individuals with disabilities. She was elected as President of Gulf Coast Self-Advocates in 2016 and also serves on the state board of Texas Advocates

Ellie Barkhouse-Gayer is the only VAST Academy student to be inducted into the National Society for Leadership and Success. She has completed two semesters of college credit classes and has served on a State Board of Education roundtable. Gayer works as an office assistant at the Spring Branch VAST Academy office.

After graduating from Elkins High School in 2013, Matthew Biasini knew he wanted to do more with his life so he enrolled in the VAST Academy at the Missouri City campus. Biasini went from being lonely to making new close friends. He made straight A’s and was honored by the HCC Board of Trustees for his success.

HCC Trustee Robert Glaser is the Honorary Chair for the event. Dance music will be performed by the Texas Brass Rock Band.