A collaborative fellowship between Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University will train doctoral students who are interested in pursuing faculty positions to support underserved individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities from marginalized backgrounds.
Funded by a more than $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, the Project FUTURE (or Focus on the Underserved in Transition Using Rehabilitation and Education) grant will fully support eight doctoral scholars beginning in fall 2023.
“When individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are in school, they have access to several support systems, like individual education programs. But once they exit the school system, many individuals and families are not aware of supports, or are not able to access them,” said Special Education Associate Professor Marisa Fisher, project director for the grant. “It has been described as ‘falling off the cliff’ in terms of support during their transition into adulthood. Many feel lost. Project FUTURE is hoping to address and better support those needs.”
Eight fully funded FUTURE Scholars will begin their academic work in fall 2023: MSU will accept four doctoral students (two pursuing a degree in Special Education and two in Rehabilitation Counselor Education) and Penn State will accept four, two each in their respective programs.
Regular collaborations will take place across the programs and universities, with cohort members completing joint research projects, writing groups, teaching apprenticeships and more. There will also be a community-engaged service project where participants will be working with school districts and vocational rehabilitation agencies to review, and ultimately improve, transition programs.
Graduates will earn a doctoral degree in either special education or rehabilitation counselor education. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program, graduates will also have expertise and lines of research in both areas.
In addition to Fisher at MSU, Connie Sung, Emily Bouck and Beatrice Lee will serve as co-project directors. Allison Fleming and Jonte “JT” Taylor from Penn State also serve as project director and co-project directors, respectively, on the grant. An advisory board was also created of community members and leaders.
“MSU’s land-grant mission is to advance knowledge and transform lives, and that’s exactly what Project FUTURE intends to do,” said Sung, an associate professor of Rehabilitation Counseling. Penn State is also a land-grant institution. “Our graduates—from both MSU and Penn State—will be trained to thrive in any environment and continue with that mission wherever they go. Our goal is to train stewards of the field.”
Project FUTURE also ties into the goal of the MSU STRIDE Center, which opened in June 2022 and is co-directed by Fisher and Sung. The mission of STRIDE—or, Services, Training and Research for Independence and Desired Employment—is to support underserved individuals with disabilities to achieve meaningful community engagement, including through employment, independent living, and post-secondary education.
“Our hope is that we graduate scholars who will make a real-world difference,” Fisher added.
Applications for Project FUTURE scholarships are due by Dec. 1.
Looking to learn more? Visit projectfuturephd.com.