College of Education collaborating to help military family service professionals across America

by The College of Education   /   Apr 29, 2015

SPED faculty and students working with Military Families Learning Network

Faculty and students from the Department of Special Education in the College of Education at Illinois are working with the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) in the area of family development.

The MFLN currently works to increase the availability of research- and evidence-based educational resources to connect with and educate military family service professionals who serve military families and communities in the areas of personal finance, family development, military caregiving, community capacity building, transitioning military families, nutrition and wellness, and online professional network literacy.

Education professors Amy Santos and Michaelene Ostrosky are the project leaders for the Family Development Early Intervention team, which has an office at the Children’s Research Center. Their work focuses on enhancing the capacity of professionals who deal with young children in military families and children who are at risk for disabilities and developmental delays.

“While military families may have similar needs as civilian families, they also face unique situations such as extended separations due to deployments, frequent transitions due to moving, and access to adequate services within and outside military installations,” said Santos.

Ostrosky, a Goldstick Scholar and head of the Department of Special Education, added that the focus on social media and online learning will expand the team’s reach as they utilize different technologies to provide professional development and sharing resources.

The MFLN is expanding its work serving military family service professionals worldwide. The project originated with the help of the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Agriculture Military Family Partnership and a cooperative agreement with the University of Nebraska and eXtension in 2010.

Work on the endeavor continues today at the University of Illinois, while the remainder of the early work at the University of Nebraska is being completed. 

The centralized portion of the MFLN project will be housed at the Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education in the College of Applied Health Sciences on the Illinois campus, where Kyle Kostelecky is the inaugural director and principal investigator of the organization. 

“The University of Nebraska and eXtension were the perfect place for this project to form and grow into the tremendous resource it is today,” said Kostelecky. “The Center for Wounded Veterans at the University of Illinois is a fantastic next step, bringing the innovation of eXtension to a new educational effort serving one of our nation’s most important resources—our wounded, ill, and injured veterans. The current and new programing the MFLN will develop will be a great fit for the center as it works with transitioning service members and their families into the next stage of their lives.”

Along with the work of the college’s Family Development team, other on-campus team members involved with the project include staff members from the Nutrition and Wellness Concentration Area and the MFLN professional development coordinator, Coral Owen.

In addition to Santos and Ostrosky, the Family Development Early Intervention team also includes Robyn Wells, the communication and social media strategist for the project, and doctoral students Jenna Weglarz-Ward and Kimberly Hile. 

“As graduate students, this project provides the opportunity to develop our skills in communication and collaboration with entities within and outside the University,” said Weglarz-Ward. “Building relationships such as these allows us to expand our learning from the classroom into the greater community of special education.”

The MFLN has worked with more than 75 faculty members and staff from 19 different universities. Currently, more than 35 faculty and staff members from 14 universities are working with the organization.