Terri Urbano recalled for dedicated leadership, commitment

Terri Urbano, Ph.D., was dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Terri (Mary Theresa) Urbano, RN, M.P.H., Ph.D., clinical professor of Pediatrics, emerita, died on Aug. 27. As a teacher, community service professional, clinician, university professor, and administrator, she devoted her career to advancing health care for children and adults with disabilities.

At Vanderbilt University, she served initially as associate dean for Lifelong Learning in the School of Nursing, and then joined the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in 2005 as director of training and director of health for the Vanderbilt Kennedy UCEDD (University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities) and director of the Vanderbilt LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) training grant.

Before joining Vanderbilt University in 1999, Dr. Urbano worked for 20 years at the University of Miami Mailman Center in various leadership roles, including as acting director of the Mailman Center and director of its LEND program.

In her roles as director of LEND programs at two different universities and a dean in the School of Nursing, Dr. Urbano demonstrated a remarkable ability to bring together teachers from a variety of disciplines and professions to meet the learning needs of trainees and other healthcare professionals. She was also dedicated to providing disability-related training for practicing professionals in Maternal and Child Health and other areas of public health.

Under Dr. Urbano’s leadership, the Vanderbilt LEND program’s breadth and depth expanded. She reorganized the core seminar series to provide broad exposure to the medical, education, advocacy, and public health aspects of the field of developmental disabilities. She worked with the LEND leadership team to design a new leadership seminar series that provided training on being a change agent, negotiation skills, designing a budget, and addressing ethical and cultural issues in clinical settings.

She worked with colleagues in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences to obtain additional grant support to train LEND audiology students. In collaboration with the State of Tennessee and its Title V agencies, she designed and implemented a novel teleconferencing series that provided monthly seminars to Public Health Nurses and other state healthcare employees at over 35 Title V sites. During her tenure as director, the Vanderbilt LEND received exceptional evaluations from its trainees and faculty alike.

Autism has been an increasing public health concern, and Dr. Urbano also had notable accomplishments in this area. She succeeded in obtaining LEND supplemental funding for autism training and educational materials. Free materials were developed for parents, in English and Spanish, and for health care providers.

She provided exemplary leadership by involving young faculty members with expertise in autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities and LEND trainees in selecting and writing products, and in having products reviewed during development by families and health care experts. She also provided leadership for the Tennessee Autism Act Early Summit Team.

Colleagues described Dr. Urbano as unassuming yet superbly capable. She was tireless in her dedication and commitment to the Vanderbilt LEND and UCEDD programs, while welcoming and respecting the contributions of others. She fostered warm and dynamic professional relationships within the programs.

She was at the forefront of leaders in developmental disabilities teaching, training, and advocacy. She focused her many professional gifts on improving health and quality of life for children and adults with disabilities and providing supports for their families. She will be deeply missed by colleagues and friends at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center; in Tennessee; and in the nation.

Dr. Urbano is survived by her husband, Richard Urbano, Ph.D., research professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt; daughter Jenni Blackford, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt; son-in-law Rob Blackford, and granddaughters Emma and Anabel Blackford.

Jan Rosemergy is VKC deputy director and director of Communication and Dissemination.

Pictured top of page: Terri Urbano, Ph.D., was dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Photo courtesy Rick Urbano.

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