Meet the Center on Disability and Development 2017 Leadership Training for Diversity (LTD) Fellows

July 10, 2017

n the Diversity and Inclusion Survey that AUCD conducted in 2015, UCEDD and LEND Directors from across the network stressed the importance of addressing diversity issues and training to ensure cultural competence and diversity goals. UCEDDs and the disability community benefit from trainees from diverse backgrounds as an important need within the disability service system are professionals who are racially, ethnically, and linguistic diverse (Clark & Majewski, 2013). The Center on Disability and Development (CDD) at Texas A&M University (TAMU) similarly recognizes the importance of growing leaders in the field of developmental disabilities who are prepared to deliver culturally competent services and who are themselves representative of diverse backgrounds. The goal of the Leadership Training for Diversity (LTD) Fellows Program at the CDD will be to produce a formal cultural competence fellowship that supports Fellows from diverse backgrounds. The project will include five objectives:

  • Objective 1: To recruit two qualified graduate students from diverse backgrounds into a fellowship program at the Center on Disability and Development
  • Objective 2: To provide interdisciplinary training and experiences that build cultural competence
  • Objective 3: To provide produce products that will be disseminated throughout the UCEDD network and other professional outlets
  • Objective 4: To continue to provide fellowships past the project period.
  • Objective 5: To effectively manage the project and oversee project activities.

In this project, the Center on Disability and Development (CDD) at Texas A&M University (TAMU) is recruiting and training three graduate students from diverse backgrounds to become leaders in the field of developmental disabilities. Over a 12 month period, these graduate trainees will 1) participate in interdisciplinary training under the supervision of Dr. Laura Stough, Assistant Director at the CDD, 2) engage in projects with researchers at the CDD, 3) propose a presentation for the annual meeting of AUCD in 2016, 4) attend the annual meeting of the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) in 2016, 5) enroll in a graduate course that focuses on diversity issues, 6) attend workshops offered through TAMU on diversity issues, 7) interact with other trainees throughout the UCEDD network, and 8) disseminate the results of their activities and projects.

We would like to introduce our LTD fellows!

Jeffrey Opaleye
Doctoral Student, Sociology

Jeffrey Opaleye is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Texas A & M University (TAMU). His research interests include race & ethnicity, marriage & family, urban poverty, and disparities in education. Actively engaged in scholarship and research, Jeffrey seeks to produce influential work that enhances the disciple of Sociology as well as make a profound impact on the lives of people.

Currently, he is working on the Aggie Ability Awareness for Graduate Student project along with the TAMU Disability Services and the TAMU Center for Teaching Excellence. This project proposes to promote a strong dialogue to graduate students about how to best work with individuals with disabilities.

In addition to being a graduate teaching assistant at TAMU, Jeffrey is a mentor who provides support to undergraduate students, volunteers by giving back to the homeless, and teaches Sociology courses at multiple institutions in the Houston area. Furthermore, he holds memberships in the following organizations: Alpha Kappa Delta - The International Honor Society of Sociology, the Association of Black Sociologists. Jeffrey also engages in institutional service, as he is a committee member on The Minority Initiative Committee at Lone Star College to improve the educational experiences of all students and is a committee member on the Woodson Black Awareness Committee at TAMU.

In the Fall of 2016, Jeffrey was awarded a fellowship from the Texas A & M Center on Disability and Development for the Leadership Training for Diversity to assist with improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. It is with great determination that Jeffrey hopes to acquire as much knowledge and research skills from the Center on Disability and Development to be a better advocate for those who face adversities because of disabilities.

Melina Cavazos,
Doctoral Student, School Psychology

Melina Cavazos is a second-year graduate student in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University, where she is pursuing her Ph.D. in School Psychology. Inspired by her younger brother, who is diagnosed with autism, and by her mother, her brother's biggest advocate, Melina is dedicated to learning best practices in supporting students with difficulties and disabilities. She has recently worked with Dr. Deborah Simmons and Dr. Melissa Fogarty in the Integrated Vocabulary of Comprehension (IVC) Project funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), where she assisted in various aspects of the project (e.g., program development, assessment, project monitoring, etc.). She is currently working with data from the Counseling and Assessment Clinic (CAC) in Bryan, TX under the supervision of Dr. Krystal Simmons to explore the effects of parent income and motivation on attrition rates. Her current research interests involve addressing the unique challenges faced by college students with autism through development of a comprehensive college transition theory and program, as well as through creating interventions and measures that address the development of self-advocacy skills in these students prior to college attendance. She excited to pursue her research goals through the Center on Disability and Development as an AIDD funded Diversity Fellow. Her current research projects as a Diversity Fellow include working with Dr. Dalun Zhang and other Diversity Fellows in surveying the current efforts taken by DD Network Partners to increase diversity in their respective programs, and with Dr. Meagan Sumbera in evaluating the effectiveness of monthly parent training sessions for parents of students with autism.

Grace Brannon,
Doctoral Student, Health Communication

Grace Ellen Brannon is a second-year doctoral student studying Health Communication in the Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University. She earned her B.A. in Communication Studies and her M.A. in Communication at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is currently a research assistant, but also has worked as a teaching assistant and instructor of record for communication courses. After her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in 2011, she became interested in health-specific communication, which led to her current research interests. Grace's research focuses on health in interpersonal relationships using mixed methods, investigating issues such as disclosure, information management, privacy issues, and health disparities. She currently is examining how young adults manage face and privacy in conversations about sexually transmitted infections with romantic partners.

Grace became interested in the Center for Disability and Development after becoming involved with her department's Climate and Inclusion Committee in 2015. After some research, she decided applying to the Diversity Fellow program could provide much-needed disability- and diversity-specific training, fitting well with her interests in health disparities in rural areas. Her current CDD projects include adapting an existing program (Aggie Ability Awareness) for the Texas A&M University medical community and creating a health practitioner-specific handout for patients with diabetes. In her spare time, she enjoys reading fantasy novels, spending time with her husband, Jeremy, and their dog, Ewok, practicing martial arts, and running. Grace is also active in the Bryan/College Station community, volunteering with a local United States Army Reserve unit Family Readiness Group.