ETSU grant covers costs for students to work with 'high-intensity' special needs population

Brandon Paykamian • Jan 4, 2020 at 8:30 AM

East Tennessee State University was recently awarded a $1.24 million grant to fund educational costs for graduate students who plan to teach students with autism and other significant cognitive, physical and sensory disabilities.

Pamela Mims, associate dean for research and grants in ETSU’s Clemmer College of Education and grant writer, said there is a “dire need” for these types of educational specialists across the nation.

She said many schools are witnessing high turnover rates among special education teachers, and this grant aims to help “fill this service gap of professionals.”

“Both in the area of speech and language pathology and special education working with students with more significant disabilities, there’s historically been a national shortage (of teachers),” she said.

The grant was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to train teachers to educate students with “high-intensity support needs,” which includes students with multiple disabilities, severe autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Mims said students with high-intensity special needs require teachers with specialized training.

Through the grant program, Mims said graduate students in speech pathology and special education will learn “evidence-based practices” from faculty in fields such as pediatrics, nutrition, physical and occupational therapy and more.

“More than just academics — how to teach state standards — they have to have all this other knowledge, so it does require a unique individual that is interested in this kind of interdisciplinary training because they’re going to be working with such a specialized group of students,” Mims said.

Mims said prospective students will need to apply for the interdisciplinary program, and those selected will receive tuition reimbursement and funds to cover books and travel. In return, the student will then commit to working in the field after graduation.

Prospective students who are interested in starting a graduate program in special education or speech-language pathology in fall 2020 are eligible to apply.

Admission into the program will be competitive. Mims said she wants the most dedicated students to apply so that the program has a “high impact.”

“We want to select the best of the best because we want to make sure that when we pay for their education to work with this population that they are highly committed and capable of working longterm with this population,” she said. “For every year we fund them, they have to return two years of service with this population of students.”

Mims will serve as director of the project along with Dr. Cindy Chambers, associate dean for Educator Preparation in the Clemmer College. Project faculty include Dawn Rowe, associate professor of educational foundations and special education, and Brenda Louw, chair of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences.

Mims said she hopes to garner more funding for the program in the future.

“We will do our best to stretch out the budget and try to fund more participants,” she said.

A link with more details about the grant can be found soon at www.etsu.edu/coe/efse/sped/cilnt.php.

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