New fellowship will help serve high-needs K-12 students

November 11, 2020

A new fellowship opportunity in the Michigan State University College of Education will prepare leaders in special education and school psychology.

Funded by a nearly $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education*, Project Hi2LD will help 21 practitioners develop expertise in assisting high-needs children with learning disabilities over the course of five years.

“There is a real need for individuals with this skillset in Michigan and across the country,” said Sara Witmer, associate professor and director of the project. “With the skills learned through this fellowship, graduates will be highly trained special educators or school psychologists who can effectively address the literacy needs of students, particularly those with high intensity needs.”

Sara Witmer

The fellowship—Hybrid Interdisciplinary Training to Address High Intensity Needs for Students with Learning Disabilities, or Project Hi2LD—provides two years of in-state tuition (plus funds for travel and technology) for individuals to earn either a master’s in Special Education or Ed.S. in School Psychology.** Upon graduation, participants can work in K-12 schools to better meet the needs of approximately 50% of elementary students statewide who are not reading proficiently, and the approximately 80% of students receiving intervention who are not meeting proficiency standards (2017 English Language Arts M-STEP).

In addition, the fellowship is structured so participants can simultaneously work in school settings, using what they learn during their coursework in their careers immediately.

“School psychologists and special educators are often on teams at schools who make decisions to meet needs for students with disabilities,” Assistant Professor Adrea Truckenmiller said. “They are quite knowledgeable, and often have the same goals, but can feel at odds because they may not be speaking the same language. This fellowship fills that gap.”

Adrea Truckenmiller headshot
Adrea Truckenmiller

The gap will be bridged by a learning emphasis on data-based decision making, evidence-based practices and education with a focus on reading, guided by a team of field-leading experts at MSU. Witmer will serve as the project director, with Truckenmiller and Assistant Professor Eunsoo Cho as primary personnel and Kristin Rispoli, Dante Dixson, Jana Aupperlee and Erin Hamilton as other key personnel.

The fellowship also includes networking opportunities, mentoring by advanced scholars and support for identifying and securing quality internships and paid positions.

“In this program, we’re training leaders to fulfill very needed positions in K-12 schools in Michigan and across the country,” Witmer added.

Both school psychology and special education disciplines have been included on the Michigan Department of Education’s critical shortages list for several years consecutively (see 2020-21 shortages). In fact, in 2019, Central Michigan University Professor Sandra Kanouse identified more than 75 unfilled school psychology positions in intermediate school districts (ISDs) across Michigan. Not all ISDs responded, and some school districts hire these positions separately from the ISD, leading Witmer to believe the number of unfilled positions is likely even greater.

“Our graduates will be able to make a real difference for students,” she concluded.

Applications for Project Hi2LD open on Feb. 1, 2021. To learn more, contact Sara Witmer.


* Prior to enrollment, scholars will be expected to sign a service obligation/payback clause that indicates that for each year of funding received, the scholar will work for two years following program completion in their area of training or else pay back the respective amount of funding they received.

** Project Hi2LD is made possible through funding from the Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities Program: Interdisciplinary Preparation in Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services for Personnel Serving Children with Disabilities Who Have High Intensity Needs (CFDA 84.325K), which is provided through the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, Office of Special Education Programs. Total federal funding for Project Hi2LD is $1,161,999, which represents 90% of total costs for the project. University-based funding for Project Hi2LD is $120,469, which represents 10% of the total costs for the project.


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For those interested in helping students with special needs, MSU is part of the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention, or NCLII-2, an all-expenses-paid training for the next generation of special education leaders. Learn more about the fellowship associated with the special education doctoral program.