Department of Graduate Studies

Awarded Record Grant for Leadership Center

The Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) Department of Graduate Studies in Vision Impairment has been awarded a $6.3 million grant from the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs to establish a National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment (NCLVI). It is the largest grant ever received by PCO.

The NCLVI project will develop a student-oriented collaborative leadership training program in education of students with visual impairment. The NCLVI involves a consortium of 13 colleges and universities around the country as well as 10 national organizations, which will serve as advisors. The overall goal is to increase the number of doctoral level personnel graduating to an eventual 10 per year, which is a 250% increase over the number now being prepared. The increase is needed to provide sufficient numbers of leadership personnel to direct teacher education programs in visual impairment, orientation and mobility programs, and low vision personnel preparation programs.

Drs. Kathleen M. Huebner, Professor and Associate Dean for the Department of Graduate Studies and Diane P. Wormsley, Associate Professor, will co-direct this project over the next five years. PCO staff will be working in partnership with colleagues at doctoral/research-extensive universities across the country, and establishing a community of practice among doctoral students and faculty that maximizes current resources while building capacity for the future.

"The NCLVI encourages and supports collaboration among programs which historically have few doctoral candidates due to the nature of the low incidence population they serve," said Dr. Wormsley. "The NCLVI will provide for centralizing of recruitment efforts, and encourage a community of practice among all of the people and organizations involved in the consortium."

Under the NCLVI, students from all over the country will have the opportunity to obtain their PhD from one of the consortium universities that make up the NCLVI. They will also have opportunities to study and participate together at conferences and in seminars and workshops, both in person and online. As part of this cohort they will also have access to expert faculty from a wide number of university programs.

Said Dr. Huebner, "This project has the potential to greatly influence the future of special education and orientation and mobility for blind and visually impaired infants, children and adolescents so that they can realize their full potential."

Collaboration is key to the success of the NCLVI,; continued Huebner. "Collaboration began in July of 2003 as the initial concept was drafted and later presented to officials within the Office of Special Education Programs and potential consortium members at a meeting at Vanderbilt University. Other meetings followed as the proposal was developed and earned the support of consortium members and public advisors. The NCLVI will evolve with the active participation of all those involved."

The grant objectives are:

  1. To develop a collaborative model for producing leadership personnel in special education with an emphasis on vision impairment.
  2. To facilitate the preparation of leadership personnel in education of students with visual impairments to increase the numbers of doctoral graduates. In particular, prepare sufficient leadership personnel to meet the needs of university personnel preparation programs.
  3. To enhance the training of leadership personnel by the creation of enrichment activities such as special topic seminars, special meetings, specialized lectures, or listserv discussions.
  4.  To increase the capacity of Higher Education Consortium for Special Education (HECSE) members and other universities that have existing doctoral programs, by helping them to establish new minors and emphases in visual impairment.
  5. To conduct an evaluation of the collaboration-both outcomes and process-that will provide data to assist in improving the project, and detailed information about the development of the collaborative model for replication purposes.
  6. To disseminate information about the model, including evaluative findings, for possible replication in other areas of leadership training.

Several colleagues assisted with PCO's grant application process, namely Drs. Kay A. Ferrell of the University of Northern Colorado, Susan J. Spungin of the American Foundation for the Blind, Jane Erin of the University of Arizona at Tucson, Sandy Lewis of Florida State University and Alan Koenig of Texas Tech University.