The Special Education Graduate Student Association (SEGSA) is an active group for all Masters and Doctoral students in the department of special education. The group participates in campus and community activities, social outings, and fundraisers, and serves as a liaison between graduate students and faculty in the Department of Special Education. If you would like to learn more about SEGSA, please contact the Department of Special Education for more information. 

Yusuf Akamoglu

Akamoglu, YusufYusuf received his bachelor's degree in special education from Ankara University and his Master of Science degree in early intervention/early childhood special education from the University of Oregon. Yusuf holds certificate of teaching from Turkey and the U.S. He worked for young children with autism and developmental delays/disabilities as a teacher in classrooms and as a home visitor. Yusuf also worked in the "Literacy Training" grant as a dialogic storybook reading trainer for parents who had young children with and without disabilities. 

Yusuf is currently interested in identifying the naturalistic language and communication strategies that parents use with their children with disabilities and their perceptions about the effectiveness of the strategies. Yusuf is also interested in how efficiently the parent coaching and training practices can be utilized to support parents in use of evidence-based interventions

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky
B.S. Special Education, Ankara University, Turkey
M.S. Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education, University of Oregon

Laurie Andrews

andrewsl_120x168Laurie received her Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois. After finishing her Master’s degree in special education, she taught in the Chicago suburbs and in the Chicago Public Schools.  She worked with students with behavioral challenges and significant learning disabilities in her 10 years as a classroom teacher.

In 2005, Laurie moved in to the position of University Practicum Supervisor at the University of Illinois College of Education, working closely with university students through their clinical experiences in the special education program in the college. Laurie is currently the Practicum Coordinator in the Department of Special Education at the College of Education.

Laurie’s research interests are focused on increasing the efficacy and quality of clinical experiences for special education teacher candidates.

Interim Advisor: Michaelene Ostrosky

Sarah Ballard

Ballard, SarahPrior to entering the doctoral program, Sarah worked as a special education teacher in California. During her professional career she taught high school students with severe and multiple disabilities in inclusive environments and vocational settings. Sarah is also a parent of children with disabilities.

Sarah’s research focuses on inclusive education for secondary students with severe disabilities and complex health care needs.

Advisor:   Stacy Dymond
B.A. Asian Studies, California State University, Sacramento
B.A. Mandarin Chinese, California State University, Sacramento
M.A. Special Education, California State University, Sacramento

Waifong (Catherine) Cheung

Cheung, WaifongWaifong (Catherine) Cheung is a PhD student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to entering the doctoral program, Catherine worked as a physical therapist in school, hospital and long term care settings for 17 years. Her Master’s degree focused on physical therapy for children with developmental disabilities. She is interested in the provision of assistive technology to help children with special needs. She is also interested in the disability laws for families of children with disabilities. She was born in Hong Kong. Catherine enjoys swimming, fishing and cooking with her husband and two boys.

Temporary Advisor: Stacy Dymond
B.S., Physical Therapy, National Yang Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan
M.S., Physical Therapy, New York University, New York, NY

Eunjeong Choi

Choi, EunjeongEunjeong is a doctoral student whose research interest is implementing Response to Intervention in literacy for English language learners at risk for reading difficulties. She worked for students with moderate to severe disabilities for 3 years in Korea and tutored Latino students at Mission Learning Center in San Francisco for a year.

Advisor: Lisa Monda-Amaya
B.A. in English Interpretation and Translation, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Korea
B.A. in Special Education, Dankook University, Korea
M.A. in Special Eduation, San Francisco State University

Moon Y Chung

Chung_MoonMoon Chung is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at The University of Illinois. After completing her bachelor’s degree in Special Education at Ewha Womans University in South Korea, Moon taught for three years in a School of Blind, where she worked primarily with elementary-aged individuals with severe disabilities. 

Moon later returned to the United States to complete her master’s degree in Special Education at The University of Texas at Austin. While in Austin, she taught individuals with autism and developmental disabilities in a private school, which specializes in Applied Behavioral Analysis. 

Moon’s research interests, related to individuals with autism and developmental disabilities, include:  (1) developing intervention strategies that can prevent challenging behaviors and teach appropriate communication skills, and (2) alternative assessment for individuals who come from diverse cultural backgrounds, and who speak English as their second language.

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky
B.A. in Special Education, Ewha Womans University, Republic of Korea
M.Ed. in Special Education, University of Texas at Austin

Christopher Cormier

Cormier_ChrisPrior to entering into the PhD program, Christopher worked as a special education teacher in Los Angeles County for 5 years in elementary, middle and high school.  His research interests include the over-representation of minorities in special education and under-representation of African-American male teachers in special education as well as ethical concerns in the field of special education.  He recently completed the first study on the motivating factors that influence preservice African American male special education teachers to enter special education as a career choice.  His dissertation is a cross-national study which focuses on the overrepresentation of minority students in special education in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Advisor: Lisa Monda-Amaya
Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Special Education, Fisk University
Master of Arts in Theology (MAT), Fuller Theological Seminary
Master of Education (M.Ed.) w/emphasis in Psychology, Pepperdine University

Melinda S. Ely

Ely_MindyMindy began her career as a Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) serving children ages 3 to 21. She then worked in the Illinois Early Intervention System as a Developmental Therapist for Vision (DTV) where she learned a great deal about the needs of families and their young children. Since 2000 Mindy has provided professional development to teachers, therapists, and family members on topics related to early childhood and special education. Through the years she has served at both the state and national level on various boards including the Illinois Vision Leadership Council, Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), Illinois Children's Vision Coalition, and Council for Exceptional Children-Division of Early Childhood (DEC). She received the 2012 Illinois AER Distinguished Service Award, the 2012 Spungin Fellowship for Future Leaders, and was recognized in 2008 as an ISU Honored Alumni. 

Mindy's research interests center around development of social skills in children with a visual impairment. Specifically, she is interested in learning how we can help children with visual impairments gain skills which will aid them in building peer friendships beginning in preschool when peer relationships are an evolving skill for all children. Such skill have long-term implications for quality of life. 

Mindy lives in Springfield with her husband and their two teenage boys. She looks for every opportunity to cheer at football, track, or cross country events in which at least one of her boys is either coaching or playing. When not on the sidelines, Mindy enjoys gardening, reading, and running.

Advisor: Michaelene Ostrosky
B.S. Special Education, Illinois State University
M.S. Education in Early Childhood, Western Illinois University

Loretta Hayslip

Hayslip, LorettaPrior to entering the Doctoral program, Loretta spent her time following her passion working with young children.  In the most recent years she has been a special needs preschool teacher in public schools. In 2011 she began to seek new ways to advocate for young children outside of the classroom.  This led to being selected by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for the Legacy Leader Fellowship program. This opportunity inspired her to create a chapter of the Arizona AEYC in Mohave County.  She then served as Vice President of Professional Development on the Valley of the Sun AEYC board in Phoenix Arizona. These experiences drove Loretta to seek a PhD program focusing on Early Childhood Special Education with the goal to broadening her impact on young children through research and the preparation of pre-service teachers.

Loretta’s research interests, specific to Early Childhood Special Education, include the impact of social development on learning outcomes, the role of motivation in social development, and the impact of teacher interaction on social development.

Advisor: Michaelene Ostrosky
B.A. in Elementary Education, Prescott College
M.Ed in Reading, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
M.Ed in Educational Leadership (Principalship), Arizona State University

Kimberly Hile

Kimberly HileKimberly knew from a very early age that she wanted to support children with special needs in some capacity.  After wearing various “hats” within the Early Intervention system including service coordinator, developmental therapist, and parent of a child with special needs, she found her passion was working with families of infants and toddlers with disabilities.  Kimberly enjoys helping empower parents to advocate for their children and to recognize that they are their child’s best and favorite teacher.  

Kimberly is currently working toward her doctorate in Early Childhood Special Education.  Her focus is on personnel preparation and supporting the use of family-centered practices within the Early Intervention program. 

Advisor: Amy Santos
B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ed.M. in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Shari Hopkins

Hopkins_ShariShari received her Master’s and teaching credential from University of San Francisco with an emphasis in curriculum and instruction for students with mild/moderate disabilities. Eventually, after working closely with students with intellectual disabilities, Shari obtained an additional credential to serve students with moderate/severe disabilities.  Shari has worked for the past five years as a special education teacher, collaborating with general education teachers and specialists to provide more inclusive opportunities for students who have complex communication needs and physical impairments. 

Shari’s research interest focuses on the meaningful inclusion of students with severe disabilities in public secondary school settings. Of particular interest is how teachers experiences with, and attitudes towards, individuals with disabilities impacts their own beliefs about inclusion.

Advisor: Stacy Dymond
B.A. Liberal Arts, New College of California
M.A. Curriculum and Instruction, University of San Francisco

Karen Hughes

Hughes, KarenKaren Hughes taught at the Pathways Program, an alternative school for students with emotional/behavioral disorders, for seven years before returning to school as a full-time grad student.  She is very interested in challenging behaviors. 

Temporary advisor: Meghan Burke
B.S. in special education: Illinois State University
Master's in special education: University of Illinois

Gakyung Jeong

Gakyung JeongGakyung Jeong’s experience includes two years as a special education teacher in Korea and two years as a high school general education instructional assistant in Texas. In both cases, she worked with students with challenging behavior. Gakyung also served as a graduate assistant for the San Antonio Writing Project (SAWP). SAWP is a non-profit organization designed to promote effective writing instruction in San Antonio area schools. The project primarily serves a low socio-economic population and students whose second language is English. Gakyung directed a division of SWAP called EYaGi, which promotes effective writing skills specifically in Korean students. EYaGi is Korean for story.

Gakyung focused her research on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for secondary students with challenging behaviors and included: 1) implementing effective teacher education to promote general classroom interventions; 2) facilitating parent involvement through education on ABA; 3) promoting students’ academic achievement in the general education classroom.

Advisor: Lisa Monda-Amaya
BA in Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio
MA in Special Education, University of Texas at San Antonio

Carli Jones

Jones, CarliCarli received her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from University of Illinois at Springfield and her Master’s in Social Work from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Carli also completed a second Master’s in Teacher Leadership from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Carli worked for 5 years for Peoria County Juvenile Court Services as a Juvenile Probation and Detention Officer. She has worked for the last 11 years in Peoria Public Schools and Peoria County Schools as a school social worker. During this time she has worked with students with emotional disabilities as well as students with severe disabilities. 

Carli has received training through the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, specifically with the Neuro-Sequential Model in Education. This model uses the knowledge of brain development and the impact that trauma can have on a child’s development to implement developmentally appropriate strategies for students within the school setting. 

Carli’s research interest is in helping identify regulation strategies for our students with severe disabilities in a public school setting. She would like to help students and teachers identify strategies that work in the public setting, so that students are not placed in private placements as often due to their unregulated behaviors.

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky

Todd Lash

Todd Lash (2)Todd Lash is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education.  Previously he worked for seventeen years as a k-5 classroom teacher, interventionist, library media specialist and instructional coach. He is the co-winner of 2015 State of Illinois, Those Who Excel Award for Educational Teams and is the co-founder of EdCampCU, which aims to bring community members with diverse viewpoints to together to discuss education-related issues.  

Todd’s research interests are around increasing equity in and access to high-quality computer science education for all students.  He is currently the lead writer for the 2016 Computer Science Teachers Association Standards Revision team and served as a writer for the Framework project.  

Interim Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) English, University of Illinois
Master of Education (M.Ed.) Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois

Chung eun Lee
Lee, Chung Eun

Chungeun is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at The University of Illinois. As a sibling of individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder and an experienced Special Education teacher, she spent many years working with children with disabilities. She taught for four years in St.Peter’s school for children with intellectual disability, and supported the transition program for adults with developmental disability. With her work experience, she pursued her master’s degree in Special Education at The University of Texas at Austin. She investigated the cultural impact on family of children with disabilities and how to support those families.

Her research interests include adult sibling perspectives on future planning, developing a family/sibling support network that can empower family of individuals with disabilities. Chungeun is also interested in cultural impacts on Asian-American family of children with disabilities.

Advisor: Meghan Burke
B.A. in Special Education, Ewha Womans University, Republic of Korea
M.A. in Special Education, University of Texas at Austin.

Deserai Miller

Miller_DeseraiDeserai received her Bachelor’s degree in social work from Southern Illinois University and her Master’s degree in social work with a specialization in schools from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Deserai has worked in the field of special education as a school social worker for the past 10 years.  During this time she has worked at a residential school for students with learning disabilities, at a therapeutic day school for students with emotional disabilities and at a public school in Champaign, Illinois. 

Deserai is a licensed clinical social worker.  She has been an adjunct instructor in the school of social work at the University of Illinois and has been a field placement supervisor for graduate level students in the field of school social work. 

Deserai’s research interest focus is on how special education teams support children who have experienced trauma.  

Advisor: Amy Santos

Kimberly Patton


Kimberly Patton is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education.  Prior to entering the doctoral program, she taught functional lifeskills at a middle school in Champaign for 10 years working with students with moderate and severe disabilities.  Kim received her Master’s in Education in Special Education from the University of Illinois in 2004.  

Kim’s research interest is focused on how families and special education teachers collaborate during transition planning for students with severe disabilities. 

Advisors: Meghan Burke and Stacy Dymond
B.S. in Agricultural Communications, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
M.Ed. in Special Education, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Jamie Pearson

Pearson_JamieJamie Pearson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Special Education at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also a program consultant for home-based programs for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Prior to beginning the doctoral program, Jamie worked as a behavioral therapist for elementary-aged children with ASD. As a lead therapist for home-based programs, Jamie specialized in applied behavior analysis and verbal behavior approaches.

Jamie’s research interests include: (a) investigating disparities in diagnoses and access to services for African American families of children with autism, (b) assessing the impact of parent-implemented interventions on family dynamics, (c) implementing classroom-based interventions that promote effective learning and engagement for underrepresented children with ASD; and (d) assessing the effectiveness of teacher preparation for classroom-based behavioral interventions for children with ASD.

Currently, Jamie is conducting her dissertation study entitled, FACES: Fostering Advocacy, Communication, Empowerment, and Support for African American Families of Children with Autism. Her study is a six-week parent training intervention for families in Chicago.

Jamie is also preparing to sit for her BCBA certification..

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky
B.A. Psychology & Sociology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
M.A. Psychology, North Carolina Central University 

Saury Ramos-Torres

Ramos-Torres, Saury (2)Saury Ramos-Torres finished her bachelor degree in Elementary Education and Special Education at University of Puerto Rico at Humacao and her master degree in Special Education and Autism certification at University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras. She has been a teacher for three years. During her first year worked with infant and toddlers and also served as Spanish teacher. After, worked with students with severe disabilities as Rett syndrome, cerebral palsy and others. The third year had a group of preschool student with autism.  In 2011 she participated in an exchange program with the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain and in 2012 participated in a Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at UIUC.  Actually, Saury Ramos-Torres is a doctoral student in special education.

Advisor: Maya Israel
B.S. Elementary Education and Special Education, University of Puerto Rico at Humacao
M.S. Special Education, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras

Kristina Rios

Rios, KristinaKristina Rios is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to entering the program, Kristina was a special education teacher for three years. Kristina received her bachelor's degree in liberal studies and master of arts degree in special education from California State University of Bakersfield. Kristina's thesis study assessed the effectiveness of student monitoring on independent learning tasks. Her current research interests include parent advocacy for individuals with significant disabilities.

Advisor: Jim Shriner
B.A. Liberal Studies, California State University, Bakersfield
M.A. Special Education, California State University, Bakersfield

Magen Rooney

Rooney, MagenMagen received her Bachelors in Psychology from the University of Illinois-Chicago and her Masters in Education from the University of Illinois- Urbana-Champaign. She worked in Chicago Public Schools for three years as a high school teacher. Her first year was spent co-teaching math and science courses. During her second two years, she led a transition-focused classroom for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

Magen’s research interests include how to increase inclusive employment and education opportunities for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

Advisor: Amy Santos

Kristen Schraml-Block

Schraml, KristenFor the past several years, Kristen has engaged in family-centered practices with caregivers who have children with hearing loss accessing early intervention services.  In her work, she partners with caregivers to promote their child’s participation in naturally occurring everyday interactions, routines and activities based on their priorities.  She espouses the motto of Dunst, Trivette & Mott -– “The goal of early intervention must not be seen as ‘doing for people’, but rather the strengthening of functioning in ways that make families less and not more dependent upon professionals for help.”

Kristen served as a consultant and interventionist for a research study at the University of Chicago, Project ASPIRE.  During her collaboration with the team, she developed and implemented a multimedia, family-centered early intervention curriculum, placing parent-child interactions at the heart of the program. Kristen delighted in the opportunity to watch families enhance their skills promoting attunement and responsive interactions with their infants and toddlers with hearing loss, positively impacting their development.  Her work with this program unveiled her interest in curricula development, adult education and equity of quality early intervention services for all families regardless of circumstance.

Furthermore, Kristen provides meaningful learning opportunities to other early interventionists in Illinois through her role with the Early Intervention Training Program (EITP).  With that in mind, now as a doctoral student, Kristen’s research interests include supporting and partnering with families participating in early intervention services.  In addition, Kristen would like to learn more about supporting adult learners during pre-service preparation and in-service professional development.

Advisor:  Lisa Monda-Amaya
M.S.Ed., Special Education, Radford University

Julia Snider

IMG_1565Prior to entering the doctoral program, Julia worked for eight years in the Chicago Public Schools. During her first six years she worked as a special education teacher at a fully inclusive elementary and middle school. She then spent two years working as an Inclusion Facilitator in the Chicago Public Schools through The Christopher L. & M. Susan Gust Foundation where she coached teachers on strategies for implementing inclusive practices into the classroom.

Julia’s research interests focus on strategies that promote the meaningful inclusion of students with significant disabilities within the classroom and school community. She is especially interested in the role technology, modifications and collaboration can play in creating truly inclusive communities that value, support, and educate all of their members. 

Advisor: Michaelene Ostrosky
B.S. Inclusive Elementary and Special Education, Syracuse University;
M.Ed. Special Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Christine Spence

Spence_ChristineChristine is pursuing a PhD in Special Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood. She is also a training consultant with the Illinois Early Intervention Training Program. 

Christine is a credentialed Developmental Therapist and evaluator for the Illinois Early Intervention system, a Certified Educator of Infant Massage, and a Board Certified Music Therapist. She began her career in early intervention in Florida while completing her Masters degree in Music Therapy. She then moved to Illinois to take a music therapist/developmental therapist position at Easter Seals. 

From 2004-2012, Christine was the Early Intervention Program Administrator at Oak-Leyden Developmental Services, Inc. in Oak Park, IL. In that capacity, she worked with a team of therapists providing early intervention services to infants and toddlers. She also was the community liaison from Oak-Leyden for the Collaboration for Early Childhood in Oak Park. While participating on several committees with the Collaboration for Early Childhood, Christine trained local child care professionals and parents on different aspects of child development. Christine also taught Students with Disabilities in Early Childhood, Creative Activities in Early Childhood and Human Growth & Development at Triton College.

Christine’s research interests focus on improving the experience of inclusion of children with disabilities in community settings, specifically looking at levels of support each child and family need in order to participate fully in activities within the community.

Advisor: Amy Santos

Jami Swindell

Swindell, Jami USEAs a former Infant-Toddler teacher, Jami was able to create relationships with families while providing a solid developmental foundation for the children in her care. Jami found her passion for working with young children and families as a swim lesson instructor and grew into her professional role as a preschool teacher, parent educator, mentor teacher, professional development training specialist and adjunct instructor at the community college level. Jami has worked closely with the National Association for the Education of Young Children as a Student Interest Forum Facilitator and presenter at the local, state and national level. Most recently, Jami has served children, families and teachers as an Inclusion Specialist where she provided classroom support, child care referrals, service coordination and workshops for early childhood professionals working with children with special care requirements and special needs across the state of Missouri. Jami also has studied extensively as a forensic child psychologist to support children who have experienced trauma in their early lives. Jami earned her bachelors in Early Childhood Development and Education at the University of Missouri- Columbia and her master’s degree in Early Childhood and Family Development at Missouri State University. Jami recently completed an advanced Graduate Certificate in Forensic Child Psychology at Missouri State University. She currently is pursuing her doctoral degree in the Department of Special Education in Early Childhood Special Education at the University of Illinois.  Her interests include IDEA Part C Policy, access to Early Intervention, interplay of childhood trauma, early development and the special needs of children and families in crisis.  Her research interests include Early Intervention, Inclusive Early Childhood Classrooms, Trauma-Informed Practice, IDEA Part C Policy and Community Engagement in Early Childhood Education. 

Advisor: Amy Santos
Masters of Science in Early Childhood and Family Development Missouri State University
Bachelor of Science in Human Environmental Sciences University of Missouri
Emphasis Area: Human Development and Family Studies, Early Childhood Development and Education

Quentin Wherfel

WherfelQuentin M. Wherfel is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Prior to entering the program, Quentin had been a teacher for seven years. He was a band director for three years in various schools in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, where his primary instruments were the classical guitar and clarinet. He also was a middle school learning/behavior specialist in the Urbana School District #116 where he worked with students with mild disabilities. His research interests focus on collaboration between general and special education teachers in inclusive classrooms. Specifically, he is interested in teacher’s use of classroom assessments and other practices as methods for gathering evidence for student learning, and the instructional decisions made from the evidence to increase student achievement.

Advisor: Lisa Monda-Amaya
B. A., Music Education, Northeastern Illinois University
M. Ed., Educational Leadership, National-Louis University
CAS, Special Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Hsiu-Wen Yang

Yang_Hsiu-WenHsiu-wen finished her bachelor and master degree in Occupational Therapy from ISU university and National Taiwan University. She worked as an occupation therapist is physical and pediatric are for 3 years. Now Hsiu-wen is a doctoral student in special education. Her research interest focus on challenging behavior and  social communication issue in young children with autism

Advisor: Michaelene Ostrosky and Hedda Meadan
B.S. Occupational Therapy, ISU university, Taiwan
M.S. Occupational Therapy, National Taiwan University, Taiwan