Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence is funded for five more years, welcomes new co-director

CAC participants group photo

The Federal Administration on Community Living has awarded a five-year, $2.7 million grant to continue the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC).

Elise McMillan, J.D.

Elise McMillan, J.D.

The VKC UCEDD, led by Elise McMillan, J.D., senior lecturer in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, works to improve supports and services in Tennessee for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, especially those of ethnic or linguistic minorities and those in high-poverty rural counties in Tennessee.

UCEDD programs and activities are grouped in four areas of emphasis: education and early intervention, employment, health and mental health, and quality of life. These emphases reflect Tennessee needs as identified by the UCEDD’s Community Advisory Council (CAC) and statewide disability organizations.

“The CAC has been asked every five years since 2005 to engage in a process of identifying and affirming the UCEDD’s areas of emphasis, which would need to reflect the statewide needs of individuals with disabilities and their families,” said Tina Prochaska, CAC chair. Prochaska is a retired educator and sister of an adult with disabilities.

“I continue to be impressed with the dedication and impact of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center UCEDD in these areas of emphasis. I am proud for the CAC to continue to advise the UCEDD over the next five years and am excited about new CAC collaborations with the VKC Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC).”

The UCEDD’s 15 years of experience builds on the VKC’s 55-year history in research, training, service, and dissemination. VKC director Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D., is forging new collaborations with two CAC workgroups to develop a lay language lecture series (community-oriented research presentations on evenings or weekends), and to strengthen IDDRC dissemination by identifying and involving stakeholders in the planning stages of IDDRC research in intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“The VKC UCEDD is strengthened by the other major parts of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center [Vanderbilt Consortium LEND, IDDRC, and TRIAD], said McMillan. “We also benefit from partnerships within Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University. Additionally, our involvement in local, state, and national networks aligns us with partners with similar missions. Together, we all will move into the next five years enhancing our existing collaborations and starting new projects and relationships that will allow us to continue our work to improve the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.”

McMillan emphasizes that health continues to be a major focus area within the UCEDD and that it will continue to expand in the next five years. Research continues to show growing health care disparities among adults with developmental disabilities. The UCEDD and its Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network partners have added health as a shared priority area.

The VKC UCEDD is part of the national network of 67 UCEDDs. In Tennessee, the VKC UCEDD partners with the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, the University of Tennessee Center for Developmental Disabilities, and Disability Rights Tennessee, as well as more than 25 community, state, and regional disability organizations who work together to develop innovative responses to state needs.

Erik Carter smiling

Erik Carter, Ph.D.

VKC UCEDD welcomes Erik Carter as co-director

Erik Carter, Ph.D., is Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair and professor of Special Education. He now joins McMillian as co-director of the VKC UCEDD. Carter is no stranger to the VKC or to its UCEDD partners. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and has been a member of the VKC since 2015. Carter has built, led, and/or collaborated on VKC UCEDD projects and statewide collaborations in the areas of transition and employment as well as inclusive higher education and inclusive faith communities.

“Erik’s vision and clarity of thinking have been integral in building the capacity in our state to improve outcomes in the areas of transition and employment,” said McMillan. “Through our joint collaborations on programs like TennesseeWorks, the National Collaborative on Faith and Disabilities, Next Steps at Vanderbilt, any many, many more, we have a well-established and effective working relationship. I enthusiastically congratulate and welcome him to the leadership of the VKC UCEDD.”

Carter’s research and teaching focuses on evidence-based strategies for promoting valued roles in school, work, and community settings for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He has published 170 peer-reviewed journal articles, 40 chapters, and seven books. He has been an investigator on more than 20 major grants and contracts addressing services and supports for students with intellectual disability and/or autism.

“We are thrilled to welcome Erik to the UCEDD,” said VKC director Jeff Neul. “His innovative work to improve transition and employment outcomes of youth with disabilities is known throughout the state and national networks. His commitment to developing and disseminating creative and effective interventions and to conducting research in key areas of need in Tennessee is stellar. He does stellar work. We’re excited to work with Erik and to see how we move forward with UCEDD priorities over the next five years.”

McMillan and Carter are joined in leadership of the VKC UCEDD by Evon Lee, Ph.D., director of Training; Robert Hodapp, Ph.D., director of Research; Courtney Taylor, director of Dissemination; and Laurie Fleming, program manager. McMillan also serves as director of Community Service and Technical Assistance.

Courtney Taylor is director of VKC Communications.


Pictured top of page: The UCEDD is advised by a Community Advisory Council, which is made up of individuals with disabilities, families, and disability network partners.

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