This January the Research to Disability Policy Advocacy (RTPA) Cohort grew from having two full-time and two part-time students to having four full-time students with an additional four part time students. RTPA is a five-year leadership grant awarded to Dr. Colleen Thoma for students interested in becoming university faculty in special education with experience in disability policy. The programs focus is to give scholars the opportunity to work with disability policy at the local, state and national levels and understand the implications of national and state policies on the education of children and youth in high-need urban settings. Below are the current members of the RTPA cohort looking to further their knowledge in disability policy.
Irina Cain, M.Ed. is a Graduate Assistant. Her research interests include supporting students’ transition to adulthood, evidence-based practices, postsecondary outcomes, with an emphasis on residential choice, and secondary data analysis. She has previously taught students with various disabilities in grades 2-15. She graduated with a Master’s in Special Education from University of Mary Washington.
Evandra Catherine is currently working as Director of Community Engagement for VCU’s Department of African American Studies. She previously worked as a management analyst for the City of Richmond. She currently serves on the Special Education Advisory Council for Richmond Public Schools, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg Young Leaders Society steering committee, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg Education Action Council, VCU’s African American Alumni Council treasurer, and Advisory Board to VCU’s Presidents Action Group for Diversity and Inclusion. She received her BA from Virginia Commonwealth University and MPA from Strayer University. Her research interests include teacher’s perception of students on Autism spectrum, disproportion of Black males in special education, and special education in urban schools.
Allison D’Aguilar, M.Ed, is a graduate student in the Research to Policy Advocacy Program and a trainer for the Leadership for Empowerment and Abuse Prevention project at the Partnership for People with Disabilities. Her research and policy interests include expanding inclusive postsecondary education opportunities for students with disabilities. Allison is currently researching inclusive higher educational opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. Specifically, the development of literacy interventions leading to improved employment and adult life outcomes for youth and adults with ID. Mrs. D’Aguilar has taught as a special educator and reading specialist at the PreK-12 levels in urban and suburban school districts.
Tonya Gokita, M.Ed. taught ESL in Japan for over 12 years. Currently, she serves as the Special Education Department Chair at Warhill High School in Williamsburg where she has been teaching English for the last 3 years. Her areas of research interest are constantly developing and include twice-exceptionality, post secondary transition for at-risk students, cultural and linguistic representations and comparisons in special education, and academic, social and behavioral interventions for secondary students. Ultimately, she intends to use her research to influence and affect policies that will improve outcomes for students with disabilities, their families, and educators. She is very excited to begin her studies at VCU.
Gabrielle Pickover is currently working as a special education teacher at Gladys H. Oberle School in Fredericksburg, Va. Gladys H. Oberle is a private day school for students who have difficulty attending public school. She previously worked as a special education teacher for Spotsylvania County Schools for 6 years and as an Education Coordinator at Snowden of Fredericksburg (psychiatric hospital) for 2 years. She received her BA from Mary Washington College and her M. Ed. from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research interests include mental health support, behavior management interventions, community involvement and policy development.
Lauren Puglia, M.Ed. is a full-time PhD student in the Special Education & Disability Policy department. Her research interest include transition outcomes for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, transition and policy; as well as has an interest in seeing how assistive technology can improve transition outcomes. Before beginning the program, Lauren taught students with severe and multiple disabilities in Stafford County Public Schools for three and a half years. Lauren also served as head coach for the high school swim team. Lauren obtained her Master’s in Special Education, with an Autism Certificate from the University of Mary Washington as well as her Bachelor’s in Elementary Education & Special Education from Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
Joshua Taylor, M.Ed. is a training associate for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence. His research interests include social skills, cognitive-behavioral strategies, inclusion, community integration, educational technology, universal design for learning, learning science, and research-to-practice. He also works as an educational advisor and contract teacher for the Smithsonian Institute in the All Access Digital Arts Program—a technology and arts-based program that emphasizes social inclusion in museum settings for students with various cognitive and intellectual disabilities—and Morning at the Museum—a program to increase the accessibility of museums for children with autism, cognitive and sensory disabilities. He was previously an Autism Specialist in Arlington Public Schools, where he trained and coached teachers of students with autism spectrum disorders, grades Pre-K through age 22. His previous classroom experience includes supporting the inclusion of students with autism in a high school setting and teaching middle school students with significant adaptive needs in a self-contained setting. He graduated with a Master’s in Special Education from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education.
Vivian Vitullo, M.Ed. is currently the Special Education Supervisor for Newport News Public Schools and has been a special education teacher for many years. Her research interests include students with disabilities who have experience or are experiencing trauma and the impact on teachers perception & online learning for students with disabilities. Vivian is excited to be a part of the RTPA program.
Weade Wallace, M.Ed. is the Executive Director at Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc., (AJE). AJE is a non-profit organization providing individual advocacy, training and legal representation to families of children and youth with disabilities in the District of Columbia. Weade has been involved in the special education field for nearly 8 years. Her research interests include effective family-school partnerships to best serve culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education and secondary transition and post-school outcomes of students with intellectual disabilities. Upon completion of the RTPA program she hopes to use her PhD in many ways including contributing to the field as a researcher and university faculty. She intends to work at the national level to inform policies that will ensure an equitable and quality education to students with disabilities. Weade also loves to travel and experience different cultures and is currently planning a trip to Tokyo.
Holly Whittenburg is the Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center’s site coordinator for the Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center Project SEARCH program. Her research interests include transition planning and practices for young adults with autism. Before joining VCU’s RRTC, Holly worked as an employment specialist for Eggleston Services, a special education teacher in the York County School Division, and a special education coordinator for Hampton City Schools. Holly holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Virginia, a master’s degree in Special Education from the College of William and Mary, and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership – Administration and Supervision from the College of William and Mary. She also possesses a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders from Virginia Commonwealth University and is a Virginia endorsed positive behavior support facilitator.
Cassandra Willis is currently working as an Associate Principal in Henrico County Public Schools. She previously worked as a Special Education Teacher, Title I Teacher, Math Coach and a Division Math Specialist in 2 divisions. She received her BA from University of VA, Masters and Post Graduate Certificate from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research interests include Interventions in the Public Schools, African American males and Behavior, and policy development. Cassandra’s family includes a husband and 2 children in elementary school.