Diversity Fellows Impact Entire Campus Community
Three students from diverse backgrounds with a common goal – make life better for people with disabilities. That’s the idea behind the Graduate Fellows Program with the Center on Disability and Development at Texas A&M.
Over the course of a year, three graduate students participate in interdisciplinary training, work on projects with CDD researchers and attend several workshops and conferences related to diversity and disability issues.
“Being a student with disabilities – specifically ADHD – I know what it’s like to feel not included. I wanted to interact in this capacity to see what is being done with students with disabilities and how we can further the conversation,” explained Jeffrey Opaleye.
This year’s Fellows are Grace Bannon, pursuing her doctorate degree in communications; Jeffrey Opaleye, pursuing his doctorate degree in Sociology; and Melina Cavazos, pursuing her doctorate in school psychology.
Bannon and Opaleye are working with faculty in the CDD on the Aggie Ability Awareness training workshops for faculty and staff at Texas A&M. The workshop is designed to increase knowledge, awareness and respect for people with disabilities by focusing on the history and legislation surrounding disability and how best to work with individuals with disabilities.
“Let’s not treat it like the elephant in the room. We know it’s there, so how can we address it and how can we help these students? We want them to succeed in college and in the workforce. How are we going to help them learn and take what they learned and apply it to real life settings?,” said Opaleye.
“I want to take the training and look at ways to adapt it for medical students and professionals. I’m looking at ways they can adapt the training when they’re dealing with issues of disability and diversity in their organizations. For example, in the medical industry you use a lot of physical touch. Some cultures don’t allow men to touch women. Our goal is to find ways to make students and faculty aware that these are issues that need to be addressed rather than have it come up in the emergency room,” added Bannon.
Cavazos is working with the A Purposeful Life parent training program which provides training for parents of children with disabilities. It was created to help parents work with their children to develop what they define as a successful life to meet their goals. Cavazos has a close connection with those families because her younger brother is autistic so she is working to help develop a sibling component of the program.
“It pulls at my heartstrings. I really feel like I’m getting up close and being able to see how effective this parent training program is,” explained Cavazos. “In the future, I’d like to incorporate those components to make my own programs or help improve upon existing programs.”
Bannon’s personal research focuses on health communication with a specialization in family. The goal of her research is to create and expand applied knowledge that can impact overall health outcomes for people with diabetes, which she has been diagnosed with. Her research is mostly focused on those in rural areas where there are lower levels of health literacy.
“I really want to make a difference in terms of equity issues, especially health disparities among people with disabilities. I eventually want to consult with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.”
Opaleye’s research interests include race and ethnicity, urban poverty and disparities in education. His long term goals include becoming a professor and eventually working with the Board of Education to make an impact on education across the country.
“I don’t just want to graduate and be behind a blackboard or behind a computer. I want to be involved in these communities and change the education system. I want to change education, policies, regulations by going to the state capitol and saying ‘this is not working and this is what needs to be done.’”
Cavazos is focused on addressing the unique challenges faced by college students with autism. Her hope is to create intervention measures to help these students develop self-advocacy skills prior to attending college.
“A main goal of mine is to become a program director of transition programs for college students with disabilities. I want to be able to provide services for assessments in a university setting by providing psychoeducational assessments.”
Over the summer, the Fellows will start working with other disability centers in the state address issues of diversity and disability within their organizations.
About the CDD
The work of the Center on Disability and Development at Texas A&M University is focused on promoting inclusive schools and communities, improving education and quality of life outcomes, and creating better lives for people with disabilities and their families through education, research, and service.
As a federally designated University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, the CDD is part of a national network of similar centers across the country.
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