The CPD introduces its 2012 Faculty Fellows

Mar 20, 2012

The CPD welcomes seven new Faculty Fellows. This year's group underscores the CPD's effort to work across disciplines to improve the lives of people with disabilities and their families. They bring their expertise to CPD programs from seven different Utah State University departments.

We will honor all our Fellows in a reception on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in CPD Room 173. Light refreshments will be served.

Here's a brief introduction:

Dr. Lisa Boyce

Dr. Lisa Boyce is an assistant professor in the Family, Consumer and Human Development department and Executive Director of the Doris Dore` Eccles Center for Early Care and Education. Her work has been published in the Journal of Early Intervention, Zero to Three, Early Education and Development and Fathering, among others.

She currently collaborates with other CPD researchers on a planning grant that explores working with the Ministry of Education in Ecuador to evaluate programs there. A masters student is also involved in the project as part of an assistantship. The CPD’s Dr. Gina Cook and Dr. Eduardo Ortiz are also collaborating.

Dr. Boyce believes the CPD and the FCHD Department can enhance each other’s goals. They could collaborate on including children with disabilities into mainstream early education. CPD research and programs also focus on teaching language skills to children with language delays. Many of the same techniques will work with children who are dual language learners, both in CPD and FCHD programs.

“We have a lot of children who are learning both their home language and English at the same time.  Preschool teachers can learn to focus more on language development,” she said. “They can learn how to build language and hopefully learn some of those strategies as well.”

Prior to becoming the DDE Early Care and Education director in 2011, Dr. Boyce worked on a number of research projects at the CPD. She has worked extensively with at-risk populations. Her research has focused on the development of early language and literacy, and the parent’s role in encouraging it. 

Dr. Damon Cann

Dr. Damon Cann, an assistant professor in political science, specializes in American Politics and Methodology. He’s been published in Political Research Quarterly, Political Analysis and American Politics Research, among other journals. Now, he brings his expertise in statistics and research design to the CPD’s Start Smart project.

The Start Smart project provides a cost-effectiveness analysis of an extended school year (the K-3 Plus Program), currently being piloted with about 7,000 high need students each year in New Mexico. It will measure the gains in literacy, numeracy and social skills against the costs of the program.

The research has broader implications, as policymakers across the country are looking for ways to keep the United States competitive in the global marketplace. They may consider summer school as an option, and good data could help them make an informed decision.

The project’s strength is in its structure, Cann said. Not everyone who applies for the summer school services will receive them, but those who applied but were not randomly selected for participation will be used as a control group for the study.

"Having that tightly controlled research design enables us to be much more definitive,” Cann said. “The problem with a lot of the studies to date is that they don't have this control group. You can't rule out the possibility that students who signed up for the program are different from the students who didn't."

Data indicating the program’s effect on Kindergarten readiness should be available soon.

Cann is one of a team of co-investigators on the Start Smart project. The others include Dr. Linda Goetze, CPD Associate Director Cyndi Rowland and Dr. Margaret Lubke. The project employs eight undergraduate student employees, two graduate assistant positions and one post-doctoral employee at Utah State University.

Dr. Chris Daview

Immunogeneticist Chris Davies has long studied preterm birth--or more specifically, the immune-mediated rejection of a fetus--in cattle. He is the Associate Director for Research of the Center for Integrated BioSystems. He has been published in Immunogenetics, the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology and the Journal of Dairy Science, among others.

Now, Dr. Davies is working with researchers at the Center for Persons with Disabilities to explore immunological connections to preterm birth and autism in humans.

He theorizes that cattle pregnancies can end prematurely because of a maternal immune response directed against fetal antigens. Spontaneous abortion is especially common when a cow is pregnant with a cloned fetus and the pattern of gene expression in the placenta isn’t completely normal. Abnormal gene expression in the placenta can result in the mother’s immune system treating the fetus as a foreign tissue graft and attacking it.

Dr. Davies also theorizes that the same anomalies that appear in cattle carrying a cloned fetus may also appear—though much less frequently—in cattle that are not cloned. In those cases the fetus would also be rejected because of an immune response. What’s more, he said, a similar interplay between genes and the immune system may trigger preterm birth in humans.

The immune system may also cause other problems linked to disability. Dr. Davies theorizes that autism may be the result of an immune response that a young child’s body mounts against its own neurological tissues—one that might inflame them without destroying them.

The interaction between the immune system and autism has been studied at the CPD for decades.  Now, Dr. Davies adds his expertise and the use of some very sophisticated lab equipment to enrich the study of genetics, immunology and the complex interplay between the two. The researchers hope to understand what effects they have on preterm birth and autism.

The Genomics Core Laboratory of the Center for Integrated BioSystems is equipped to do high-throughput genotyping and gene sequencing, which are important components of Dr. Davies’ collaboration with the CPD. Researchers work on sequencing a genetic region that’s being studied for its association with autism. The tests they run look for differences in the genes between the known cases of autism and control subjects. Researchers are especially interested in the highly-variable MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes, which regulate the immune system.

In addition to Dr. Davies and the CPD’s Biomedical Laboratory Director Anthony R. Torres, the research involves two post-doctoral employees.

Christopher Gauthier

Christopher M. Gauthiér is an actively exhibiting artist teaching Fine Art Photography in the Caine College of the Arts.  He holds a Master of Fine Arts from Ohio University in photography and received a BA from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Mississippi Museum of Art; Webster University, The Netherlands; Koltsovo Airport, Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation and in private collections nationally and internationally. Autism advocacy became a personal imperative when he became aware of the link between his environmental concerns and his children’s autism.

Evidence and Artifacts: Facing Autism is a long-term photographic project documenting the growing number of individuals, families and invested teachers, therapists, advocates, medical professionals and researchers on the front lines fighting the debilitating characteristics of autism spectrum disorders. Facing Autism is both a call to action, and a way to honor those who are rising to the challenge autism presents everyday.

“The goal of the collection is to raise awareness of autism and increase the public sense of urgency about the growing toxic assault impacting human health and development.  This project has given me the opportunity to network with really passionate people. I feel really honored to be able to work with them,” he said.

portraits from the Facing Autism exhibit

Dr. Steve Hansen

Dr. Steve Hansen is a former Deputy Director and Director of Research at the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University, and senior scientist and Director of the Bioelectromagnetic Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He has been the principal investigator or program manager on 29 projects totaling over $50 Million.

Three years ago he began a partnership with the CPD’s Assistive Technology Laboratory, having student teams develop new and innovative technologies to assist persons with disabilities. He became a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Persons with Disabilities in 2012.

Each year he mentors about 100 engineering design students in 12 design teams.  A third of the teams work on the development of assistive technologies.  These projects are funded by the grant from the National Science Foundation with the USU Assistive Technology Lab providing design challenges, expertise, facilities and supplemental funding.  The NSF grant, Engineering Design to Assist Aging Persons, provides $125,000 over five years to support the capstone student projects and is specifically focused on developing technologies to assist the progressive disabilities associated with aging.

Examples of projects developed by students include a “chair to mechanics creeper” which allows a person in a wheelchair or a person with aging or injured knees to go from a sitting position to a creeper position to work under a vehicle and a “wheelchair lift” which helps a caregiver easily put a wheelchair into the trunk of a car.  The lift currently has a patent pending.

Dr. Hansen’s research interests are far ranging, and include cosmic ray physics, physical oceanography, biomedical engineering, space-based sensors, cryogenic technologies, computational sciences, signal and image processing, autonomous control systems, biofuels, and human assistive technologies.

Maureen Hearns

Maureen Hearns is an Assistant Professor and Director of Music Therapy at Utah State University. Currently she is studying music psychotherapy with an emphasis in Guided Imagery and Music, while pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. She joined the CPD’s Faculty Fellows in 2012.

She supervises musical therapy efforts at the CPD in both the Up to 3 and Disability Skills Laboratory. The goal of these services varies according to the immediate needs of the children and adults in the CPD programs. Music therapy can be used to address issues like depression, impulse control, socialization, self-esteem, group cohesiveness or cognitive skills.

“Our goals with the clients are non-musical goals, but they’re addressed through music,” Hearns said. For example, children can learn to control impulses or take turns just by having the chance to play a musical instrument, since their first impulse when presented with a drum is to beat on it. Music therapy can teach them to wait until the time is appropriate.

Four to 8 students typically work at the CPD in music therapy sessions per year. Those who are doing research can use their practical experience to test a theory and gather data. Letha Mark, a music instructor, is also involved in music therapy at the CPD.

Dr. Tim Riesen

Dr. Tim Riesen is a research assistant professor in the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation.  He began his relationship with the CPD in 2005, when he directed the IOTI funded supported employment specialist training grant at the Salt Lake Community College.  That relationship continued as he went to the University of Utah and then moved over to Utah State University, at the Salt Lake Education Center.

Through it all he has worked to train supported employment specialists. He trains both for-profit and nonprofit community rehabilitation providers, teaching them how to best support people with disabilities seeking to enter the work force. He also provides trainings to school districts on how to improve employment outcomes for transition-aged students with disabilities. In addition he offers training on topical issues related to employment of people with disabilities, such as social security work incentives, systematic instruction, and advanced job development.

Most of the training occurs in the Salt Lake valley.

Dr. Riesen focuses on developing employment supports for people with more significant needs. “These individuals need to be provided systematic instruction and support in applied, community-based settings,” he said. “This is particularly important for transition-age students who want to obtain and maintain employment after they exit school.”

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