Researcher receives $2.5M grant to assist young people with intellectual disabilities gain completive employment

Katherine Inge, Ph.D.

Katherine Inge, Ph.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University researcher has received a five-year, $2.5 million

grant to help young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — including autism spectrum disorder — to achieve competitive employment based on the individual’s choices, interests and skills.

The research grant from the National Institute on Disability Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was awarded to Katherine Inge (B.S.’75/AHP; Ph.D’95/E), Ph.D., director of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of People with Physical Disabilities in the VCU School of Education.

Teacher Tales: Participants in the School of Education’s Richmond Teacher Residency program share lessons they’ve learned in city school classrooms

Grace Giampietro, a graduate student in the VCU School of Education who is participating in the Richmond Teacher Residency program, teaches a third grade special education class at Linwood Holton Elementary School.  Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

Grace Giampietro, a graduate student in the VCU School of Education who is participating in the Richmond Teacher Residency program, teaches a third grade special education class at Linwood Holton Elementary School.
Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

For the past five years, a partnership between Richmond Public Schools and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education has prepared 77 new teachers who have made an immediate impact in 24 of the city’s most challenged public schools.

The Richmond Teacher Residency program is a highly selective urban graduate teacher residency program that aims to create a sustainable pipeline of highly effective teachers who are committed to the students of Richmond Public Schools for the long term.

“Despite overwhelming research that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in student achievement — and that teacher effects on student learning have been found to be cumulative and long-lasting — poor and minority students consistently are taught by the least prepared, least experienced teachers,” said Therese A. Dozier, Ed.D., director of the RTR program.

“This results in a constant churning of teachers in urban schools that comes with a huge price tag — $6 million each year for Richmond Public Schools, according to the 2014 National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future ‘Teacher Turnover Calculator’ — and, most importantly, the cost to students in terms of the lack of stability in schools and its negative impact on student achievement,” she said.

The RTR program is designed to end these educational inequities. Similar to a medical residency, the teachers co-teach alongside a Richmond Public Schools master teacher for a year, receive extensive mentoring and support, earn a master’s degree in education, and commit to teach at least an additional three years in Richmond Public Schools.

“Teachers who are unprepared in curriculum, teaching methods, child development, and with no student teaching experience leave at twice the rate of teachers who have had this training,” Dozier said.

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Professor’s new book helps children better understand dementia

Paul Gerber, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the School of Education and former Ruth Harris Professor of Dyslexia Studies, has authored a children’s book illustrated by his wife, Veronica Geran Gerber, which serves as a vehicle for discussion and understanding of loved ones who suffer from dementia.

Ferguson the Forgetful Frog: A Story about Dementia,” is written for children ages 5 to 8 and provides an age-appropriate format for dealing with a family member with dementia. Gerber and his wife produced the book after experiencing dementia among family members.

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Playing for keeps: D.C. United player Andrew Dykstra keeps his eye on the goal

Feb 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (50) during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra plays during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended the Feb. 17, 2016, match in a 1-1 tie. Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By Anthony Langley

Andrew Dykstra (B.S.’08/H&S; M.S.’10/E) found his passion for sports early on as a 4-year-old constantly running outside to play.

“I started soccer very early, wrestled in middle and high school, swam and even played football,” he says.­­

As Dykstra entered his senior year of high school at Osbourn Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, he contemplated playing college football but instead returned to the sport he loved the most, soccer. He strategically weighed his college options based on which school was most in need of his position, goalkeeper, and could provide the most financial support. In the end, his decision to attend Virginia Commonwealth University came down to the opportunities he would have off the field.

“I knew I wanted to study a subject that lead to athletic training, and the sheer amount of health-related programs the university has is amazing,” says Dykstra, who majored in health, PE and exercise science as an undergraduate student. “The academics were a perfect fit. I knew I made the right decision.”

D.C. United graphic

VCU alumni, Ram fans, parents and families are invited to enjoy an evening of soccer at RFK Stadium with VCU Alumni’s DMV GOLD Chapter! Cost is $25 and includes entrance to the game and pregame tailgate spot when 25 attendees have registered. RSVP online by Sept. 30.

Dykstra was a standout goalkeeper on the VCU men’s soccer team, where he logged 73 matches and spent more than 6,500 minutes between goalposts, earning him All-CAA honors twice between 2005 and 2008.  During the summers, he played for the Richmond Kickers development team and continued to take classes at VCU.

Despite on-field talent, the VCU men’s soccer team didn’t post a strong season in 2007-08, Dykstra’s senior year, resulting in less attention from scouts looking for new recruits for the majors. As graduation grew closer, Dykstra didn’t think he was ready to play on a professional level. He had a redshirt year, which allowed him to attend classes and practice with the team, and with some convincing from his coach, Dykstra remained on the team and began his master’s in sports leadership.

Though he wasn’t scouted, Dykstra was not ready to admit defeat. He hired a friend as his agent, who arranged for Dykstra to travel to Florida to attend a training and conditioning camp led by United Soccer League coaches.

At the end of the combine, Dykstra traveled to Germany, hoping to try out for one of the European soccer clubs, when he got a call from the Chicago Fire inviting him to that team’s training camp. Impressed by his performance, the team kept him on as the third goalkeeper. Dykstra moved to Chicago and completed the master’s degree he started at VCU online in 2010.

Dykstra played for the Fire for two seasons followed by a single season in 2011 for the Charleston Battery where he earned MVP for leading the USL Pro League in lowest goals against average and fewest goals allowed during the regular season, which helped the team win the USL Pro title.

After leaving the Battery, Dykstra’s agent arranged for him to practice with D.C. United, a move that brought him closer to home. The team signed him for the next season.

“His reliability and locker room presence are irreplaceable,” says Dave Kasper, the team’s general manager. “The coaching staff and players are very confident when Andrew’s number is called [to the field].”

Playing in the nation’s capital allows Dykstra to maintain his Richmond roots. In addition to playing for D.C. United, he remains on loan to the Richmond Kickers, the team’s USL PRO affiliate. He was a key player in helping the Kickers advance to the USL PRO semifinals in 2013 and ending the season with the league’s fewest goals against average and 10 shutouts.

In 2014, Dykstra ruptured his left Achilles tendon in a friendly international match with Fulham F.C., ending his season abruptly. During his recovery, he picked up a hobby that’s near and dear to Richmond: He began to homebrew beer.

“I figured it would be a cool way to meet new people and make great friends along the way,” he says.

Now in his fifth season with D.C. United, Dykstra is back on the field and ready to take on the NYC Football Club on Oct. 16 at RFK Stadium during VCU Alumni Night with D.C. United.

VCU’s Center for Sport Leadership ranked eighth in the world


The Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University is ranked eighth worldwide and seventh in North America in the 2016 Sports Business International Postgraduate Sport Course Rankings, released Friday. It is the first time the CSL has been included on the list of top sports management programs. The CSL is also ranked eighth worldwide in the Graduates Choice category, which is based on student satisfaction surveys.

“We are honored to be recognized as one of the best sport management programs in the world,” said Carrie LeCrom, Ph.D., executive director of the CSL. “This designation signals the consistent growth and evolution of our program, its students and our alumni.”

This is the fifth year Sports Business International has conducted rankings for sport business and sports management programs worldwide. The publication received a record number of entries for consideration. The methodology of the rankings are based on several factors: graduates employed within three months of graduation; work placement; male/female ratio; domestic/international student ratio; and average salary after three years of graduation. There is also a student satisfaction component, which is based on a survey filled out by a program’s alumni from a designated year.

The CSL has more than 700 alumni working in all areas of the sport industry, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, USGA, and more than 50 Division I college athletic departments across the country.

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VCU School of Education’s Special Education, Counselor Education departments to merge

The Department of Special Education and Disability Policy and the Department of Counselor Education at Virginia Commonwealth University will merge July 1, blending two of the School of Education’s top-tier programs to create an interdisciplinary academic environment focused on real-world learning and impact.

Students in the newly merged Department of Counseling and Special Education at the VCU School of Education.

Students in the newly merged Department of Counseling and Special Education at the VCU School of Education.

The two departments will merge into the new Department of Counseling and Special Education, bringing together a team of educators who are recognized as leaders in their fields, and a set of fully accredited graduate programs that are based on research, classroom and real-world experience.

“This merger provides an opportunity to enhance the interdisciplinary nature of our projects and research in counseling and special education,” said Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., chair of the new Department of Counseling and Special Education. “These programs complement each other, using a holistic approach to understanding and working with children, youth and adults, their educational needs, and their support systems. These two fields recognize the need to understand the context for a student’s education, including family life, health, emotional well-being and community resources.”

The two disciplines, Thoma said, complement one another, and together will foster a rich diversity in intellectual interests and provide new opportunities for collaboration. For example, faculty members from both departments serve on a statewide taskforce on trauma-informed care, an issue that both counselors and special educators face on a regular basis, but in different capacities. Collaboration in research will provide greater understanding of the impact of trauma on students with and without disabilities, and will help develop strategies designed to minimize that impact.

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VCU professors receive $1.2 million grant to train counselors to support students with disabilities

Donna Gibson, Ph.D., at left, and LaRon Scott, Ed.D., at right.

Donna Gibson, Ph.D., at left, and LaRon Scott, Ed.D., at right.

Two faculty members in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education have received a $1.2 million federal grant to boost the number and quality of school counselors who serve as related service providers for students with disabilities.

The five-year grant, “A Collaborative Model of Preparing School Counseling Students as Related Service Providers to Students with Disabilities,” from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs will integrate research on self-determination and social cognitive career theories to prepare school counselors-in-training to address the academic, behavioral and social needs of pre-K-12 students, with a specific focus on transition planning for secondary students with disabilities.

“Transition services are a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability,” said project co-director LaRon Scott, Ed.D., assistant professor of special education in the Department of Counseling and Special Education. “The goal is to improve both the academic and functional success for a child with a disability. The transition planning process includes the development and execution of plans that would improve education, employment, school to post-school activities and other necessary experiences of a child with a disability.”

According to 2015 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 13 percent of all public school students ages 3–21 receive special education services.

Meanwhile, only about 24 percent of all accredited school counseling graduate programs require any special education courses in their degree requirements. Yet research shows that school counselors are actively involved in transition planning for 61 percent of students with disabilities.

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Two VCU programs ranked No. 1, Arts rises to No. 2 in updated U.S. News & World Report national rankings

overheadSeveral graduate programs at Virginia Commonwealth University are ranked among the top 50 of the nation’s best in the 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released on March 16.

Among the graduate schools with updated rankings for the 2017 edition, the School of the Arts is tied for the No. 2 overall fine arts ranking in the nation. Also, the School of Pharmacy is tied for No. 17, the School of Social Work is tied for No. 22, the School of Education is ranked No. 33 and the School of Medicine is tied for No. 40 for best primary care.

Within the School of the Arts, a number of fine arts graduate programs are ranked: Sculpture is ranked No. 1, ceramics is tied at No. 9, glass is No. 3, graphic design is No. 3, painting and drawing is No. 7 and printmaking is tied at No. 10.

Several graduate programs in the School of Allied Health Professions also fared particularly well in the report. In their categories, nurse anesthesia is ranked No. 1 in the nation, health care management tied for No. 3, rehabilitation counseling tied for No. 4, occupational therapy tied for No. 17 and physical therapy tied for No. 20.

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In South Africa, VCU-led delegation sparks social change through soccer


A delegation led by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Sport Leadership is in South Africa this week and next as part of a U.S. Department of State-backed effort to boost cultural understanding and spark social change through the country’s passion for soccer.

“It’s sport diplomacy,” said Carrie LeCrom, Ph.D., executive director of the center, which is part of the VCU School of Education. “The goal is to basically increase cultural understanding between the U.S. and people of South Africa through sport. Our other goal is positive social change.”

The two-week trip is part of Project PUSH — or “Play Until Something Happens” — a partnership between the VCU Center for Sport Leadership and the Richmond Strikers Soccer Club, as well as the Boys & Girls Clubs of South AfricaRagball International and Grassroots Soccer. It is funded by a $200,000 grant from the U. S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ International Sports Programming Initiative.

Last June, 14 youth soccer coaches from South Africa visited Richmond to work with the Center for Sport Leadership and the Richmond Strikers to learn how sport can be used as a teaching tool in the areas of leadership, teamwork, education, responsibility and lifelong learning.

Also as part of their training in Richmond, the South African coaches developed action plans to use soccer to address specific social challenges facing their communities back home, such as teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, and HIV/AIDS education.

Now, the eight-person delegation from the United States is visiting Johannesburg and Cape Town to meet with the organizations and clubs of the coaches who visited the U.S. last year and to observe and assess implementation of their social change action plans.

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Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D.

Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education is partnering with the state’s Region 1 school divisions to establish the Region 1 Autism Education Consortium.

Approximately 2,200 students who are identified with, or exhibit characteristics of, autism spectrum disorders receive services in Region 1 schools. ASD are a range of developmental disorders characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive or severely limited activities or interests. The consortium, facilitated by the VCU Autism Center for Excellence in the School of Education, will allow participating school divisions to build upon shared resources and expertise among the schools and VCU to respond to the increasing demand for effectively trained educators to serve students with ASD.

“The consortium that will be developed between the superintendent’s Region 1 and the VCU School of Education Autism Center for Excellence will be an outstanding opportunity to help improve the quality of services for students with autism spectrum disorders in Central Virginia,” said Paul Wehman, Ph.D., director of VCU-ACE. “This agreement will expand the opportunity for more technical assistance services to schools in Central Virginia who currently have more than one-third of all students with autism in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Education.”

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