Skills, perspectives, energy, commitment—Gifts of trainees

Photo of LEND and UCEDD trainee Megan DeWaard with Next Steps student Nila Huddleston.

Trainees in VKC UCEDD and LEND clinical, educational, and research programs gain skills while simultaneously contributing their professional and personal perspectives. Each year our impact is greater, thanks to the energy and commitment of dedicated trainees, as the stories of two students illustrate.

Photo of Evon Lee, Ph.D.

Evon Lee, Ph.D.

“Training ‘the next generation’ has been part of our Center’s mission since its founding,” said Evon Lee, Ph.D., “but now as part of the national network of UCEDDs and LENDs, we have a formal framework for training.” Lee is director of training for the VKC UCEDD (University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities), associate director of the Vanderbilt Consortium LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities), and associate professor of Pediatrics, Psychology, and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

In FY 2016-2017, the VKC has 54 UCEDD and LEND long-term trainees in the disciplines of audiology, deaf education, special education, family medicine, nursing, nutrition, occupational therapy, psychology, physical therapy, speech language pathology, and social work. Each long-term trainee provides 300+ hours of disability-related activities.

UCEDD trainees are Vanderbilt master’s level and doctoral students working with VKC-affiliated faculty who serve as mentors; together they develop an individualized training plan.

The Vanderbilt Consortium LEND includes faculty and trainees from Belmont University, East Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College, Milligan College, Tennessee State University, the University of Tennessee, and Vanderbilt, as well as affiliates from Family Voices of Tennessee. This year’s trainees–17 from Middle Tennessee and 11 from East Tennessee –are training in the fields of audiology, deaf education, dentistry, medicine, nursing, nutrition, occupational therapy, pediatrics, physical therapy, psychology, public health, social work, special education, and speech-language pathology. Trainees voluntarily take on the LEND coursework in addition to their professional studies.

Gloria Han, UCEDD psychology trainee

Photo of Gloria Han

Gloria Han

In the summer of her sophomore year at Washington University in St. Louis, Gloria Han was a counselor for a residential summer camp for individuals with autism or other developmental disabilities, an experience she describes as transformative: “I loved seeing how being in a supported yet challenging environment helped my campers grow as individuals, build confidence, and learn new skills.”

Today, Han is a fourth-year doctoral student in psychology, doing her dissertation with Andy Tomarken, Ph.D. (Psychology), and UCEDD supervision with Joseph McLaughlin, Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology). Since Summer 2014, her training experiences have included working with campers with Williams syndrome in the ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp, with young adults with autism in a social skills group in Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences (supervised by Katherine Gotham, Ph.D., Psychiatry), with children on the autism spectrum in TRIAD clinical services in Pediatrics—and she has served on the Junior Board of The Arc of Davidson County. Han is also engaged in autism research with Dr. Gotham in the Adult Wellbeing Study investigating mechanisms underlying depression in adults with autism. Most recently, she has been accepted to the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute to do cross-cultural research in Taiwan.

“Through my experiences as a trainee, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how research informs services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and vice versa,” Han said. “I have felt supported in pursuing initiatives in advocacy and learning more about how to be a more effective clinician. The most meaningful experience has been working with families and connecting them with additional resources for their child. Helping parents become more effective parents and advocates for their child has been empowering.

”With The Arc Junior Board, I helped organize the Sprout Film Festival, a fundraising and awareness event. It was so insightful to be a part of The Arc and to help promote dialogue among community members, families, and professionals.

“Co-leading a social group for adults with autism has definitely been the most fun. We’ve been able to discuss our personal goals, love and relationships, personal finance, and we even have a dinner and bowling night in the works!”

Han’s upcoming research at the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute, funded through the National Science Foundation, will involve collaboration on a longitudinal follow-up study on Taiwanese individuals with autism. The study includes diagnostic, behavioral, psychosocial, genetic, and neuroimaging measures.

“I’m eager to foster this collaboration between researchers in Taiwan and Vanderbilt,” Han said. “As a first-generation Asian-American, I feel that I am in a unique position to facilitate a cross-cultural understanding of autism, especially between Western and Asian cultures.”

Megan DeWaard, LEND and UCEDD social work trainee

Headshot of Megan DeWaard

Megan DeWaard

When Megan DeWaard entered the University of Tennessee program to earn a master’s in social work, she came with a long-standing interest and experience in working with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, thanks to her mother’s work in the field. “It’s always been a part of my world,” DeWaard said.

As a dual trainee in both the LEND and UCEDD, DeWaard’s year has held diverse experiences that have included teaching students with intellectual and developmental disabilities enrolled in the Next Steps at Vanderbilt inclusive higher education program, handling helpline calls at Tennessee Disability Pathfinder, connecting to community resources and advocacy through participation in the Multicultural Alliance on Disability and the VKC Community Advisory Council, and taking part in a monthly interdisciplinary team at the VUMC Huntington’s Disease Clinic.

With UCEDD trainee Gloria Han, she assisted with the social group for persons with autism in VUMC Psychiatry. “It’s been a joy to work with and learn from Gloria,” DeWaard said.

Photo of LEND and UCEDD trainee Megan DeWaard with Next Steps student Nila Huddleston

LEND and UCEDD trainee Megan DeWaard with Next Steps student Nila Huddleston

DeWaard has enjoyed working with Next Steps students as she led a Next Chapter Book Club, planned and accompanied students on monthly community service projects, and co-taught the senior Capstone course in which students identify a problem they’re passionate about and then propose a way to address it. She developed an orientation session on conflict management, which has been shared with other inclusive higher education programs. She also supported Next Steps students in advocating with their Tennessee legislative representatives during the annual Disability Day on the Hill.

“Facilitating the Capstone course calls on the skills inherent in social work,” DeWaard said. “You identify needs, assess what’s going on, and figure out what you’re going to do. It’s been fun working with these students—fostering employment dreams, independent living dreams, seeing how that comes about for students. It’s also been challenging for me, because it’s a whole different way of interacting, teaching, and encouraging, which I’m still learning.”

DeWaard also has enjoyed her experience in the Huntington Disease Clinic. “It’s been different from anything I’ve done before, learning about the disorder, and its impact psychologically and socially and on families—and how the different professions support patients and families.”

Learning to contribute one’s professional expertise within the context of interdisciplinary teams is foundational for LEND and UCEDD trainees.

“I love learning what the other professionals see,” said DeWaard. “Social work is a unique blend of looking at people, families, systems, and problems. In the LEND environment, everyone is looking at an issue from their own professional perspective, so people notice things I wouldn’t notice. We prioritize differently. And I learn and understand more.”

The emphasis on continuous learning is one of aspects that DeWaard values most about her training experience.

“Being in an educational setting for a practicum has been really beneficial. Everyone at Vanderbilt says ‘please ask questions.’ Everyone is encouraging about being inquisitive, which I’m not sure I would have experienced in a service provider setting that is more focused on learning their system of service provision. People here are already in teaching mode. It’s been great being able to learn from everybody.”

Photo of Carol Rabideau, LCSW

Carol Rabideau, LCSW

Dewaard has been mentored by Carol Rabideau, LCSW, VKC UCEDD social worker, LEND social work faculty member, and field supervisor for University of Tennessee College of Social Work. Rabideau captures the essence of training within the VKC UCEDD and Vanderbilt Consortium LEND: “It’s wonderful to hear what trainees are learning. It goes both ways. We gain so much.”

For additional information about LEND training, click here to read a past Notables article titled “Vanderbilt Consortium LEND trains future leaders in IDD interprofessional care.” 

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

Pictured top of page: LEND and UCEDD trainee Megan DeWaard with Next Steps student Nila Huddleston. Photo by Jon Tapp.

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