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. 

Nicole (Nikki) Adams

Advisor: Amy Santos

Nikki received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Vanderbilt University. Nikki worked in the field of Special Education for 7 years prior to becoming a doctoral student. She served in a variety of roles in Virginia, including itinerant and classroom teacher for 2-5 year olds with disabilities and preschool evaluator. Nikki also provided trainings as an educational consultant to local infant-toddler teachers and staff based on the Center on Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning (CSEFEL) modules and materials. She has served on the board for the Virginia chapter of the Division of Early Childhood (DEC).

Janeth Aleman-Tovar

Advisor: Meghan Burke

Janeth was a third-grade and special education teacher for five years in Fresno, Califonia. As a special education teacher, she provided small group instruction to students with mild to moderate disabilities. Janeth's research interests center on supporting adolescents and their families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds during the transition planning process. 

Laurie Andrews

Advisor: Lisa Monda-Amaya

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.

Hannah Brenner

Hannah received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to starting the doctoral program, she worked as a Special Education teacher in a low-incidence high school classroom in Chicago Public Schools for 5 years. Hannah’s research interests include increasing employment opportunities and social integration within the employment setting for individuals who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). She is also interested in researching employers’ perceptions of and experiences with hiring individuals with complex communication needs.

Lynn Burdick

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky

Lynn received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Audiology and Speech Sciences from Michigan State University and her elementary teaching license from Millikin University. Lynn taught third and fourth grade and served as the technology coordinator in a K-12 school district prior to coming to the University of Illinois as part of the PT3 Grant, Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology. Since Lynn’s arrival at the College of Education, she worked in both the Learning Technologies unit and more recently in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.  Currently, Lynn’s roles are as a Technology Integration Specialist, Elementary Education Program Coordinator, and edTPA Coordinator for K-12 licensure candidates in Curriculum and Instruction.  Lynn’s research interests center around the impact of childhood trauma on learning and behavior.

Waifong (Catherine) Cheung

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky

Waifong (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.

Rebecca Folkerts

Rebecca received a Bachelors in Music from James Madison University and an Ed.M in Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on the ACCESS grant.  She worked in the field of special education for six years in Chicago Public Schools as a transition services teacher for students with moderate to significant disabilities and as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst for the entire district.  As a BCBA, she worked in a consultative role with students exhibiting challenging behavior and provided professional development to school-based professionals across the district.

Her interests include improving the quality of pre-service teacher training around student behavior assessment and change as well as disability law around LRE advocacy.

Camille Griffin

Camille Griffin is Project STePS: Preparing Leaders in Special Education, Technology, Research, Policy, and Cultural, Linguistic, and Socioeconomic Diversity fellow, holds a BS in Special Education and MS in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Language and Literacy from the University of Illinois.

Ms. Griffin’s research is focused on culturally sustaining pedagogies used to enhance literacy instruction for students with high incident disabilities who are linguistically and culturally diverse, with an emphasis on curricular design and evidence-based intervention strategies to accelerate learning for individuals with dyslexia both in and out-of school. She enjoys dancing, mindfulness activities, and outdoor adventures with her son. 


Rebecca Hacker

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky

Rebecca received her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Illinois State University and her Masters in Education in Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She worked in Chicago Public Schools for 4 years. She began in a co-teaching setting in high school, then moved to an early childhood special education for students with moderate to severe disabilities for 3 years. She enjoys golfing, frisbee golf, and cooking.

Her research interests include disability law and as well as inclusion of all students in the early childhood classrooms.

Loretta Hayslip

Advisor: Michaelene Ostrosky

Prior 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.

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.

Gakyung Jeong

Advisor: Lisa Monda-Amaya

Gakyung 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.

Misty Krippel

Advisor: Meghan Burke

Misty received her masters degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She worked in the field of early childhood special education for 14 years prior to becoming a doctoral student. Through collaboration and building connections with families and community providers, Misty seeks to build awareness and understanding of the unique needs of diverse at-risk families and their children. Her research interest includes early childhood services with at-risk youth & families, in addition to barriers to services. Misty is passionate about building family systems and empowering parent-child relationships through intentional play.

Allison Kushner

Advisor: Catherine Corr

Allison received her Bachelor’s degrees in English and Communications Studies from Fordham University and a Juris Doctorate from Florida State University. Allison is a member of the Illinois Bar and currently works in the Office of University Counsel, as an Assistant University Counsel. Allison serves in an advisory role on multiple committees on campus focusing on student affairs including the Behavioral Intervention Team, Campus Violence Prevention Committee, and Title IX Advisory Committee.

Allison’s research interests focus on the accommodations, supports and services that enable students living with mental health illnesses and psychiatric disabilities to successfully navigate high school and college.

Todd Lash

Advisor: Hedda Meadan

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.  

James Lee

Advisor: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky 

James has worked as a clinician in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) in California and South Korea. His experiences include directing ABA clinic operations and conducting research in low-resource settings. His research interests focus on providing training and coaching with parents of young children with autism in low-resource settings, and collaborating with international stakeholders in response to the scarcity of resources in many parts of the world.  

Emily Malouf

Advisor: James Shriner

Emily received her Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from The Ohio State University and her Masters in Education in Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She worked in public schools in Ohio and Chicago, teaching students with significant support needs. Emily has held positions at private ABA companies and in non-public school settings in Texas, New York, and California. Emily’s research interests include increasing opportunities and outcomes in the area of employment for individuals with significant support needs.

Melanie Martin

Melanie has over nine years of clinical experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), as a behavior therapist, and since 2017, as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst supervisor. Melanie has supported children and their families across various environments including in homes, public and private schools, and clinical settings across the Southwest United States, and internationally in Venezuela, Jordan, and the Cayman Islands. Melanie obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Anthropology from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and her Master of Arts in Special Education and ABA from Ball State University. Melanie will focus her PhD studies exploring how to improve access to culturally relevant and evidence-based Autism support for diverse communities.

Stacy McGuire

Advisors: Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky

Stacy was a general and special education teacher for 11 years in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Champaign, Illinois. As a special education teacher she worked with 1st-3rd grade students with mild to moderate disabilities in a resource setting. As a general education teacher she taught kindergarten, second, third, and fifth grades in an inclusive environment.

Stacy's research interests focus on the social inclusion of elementary students with emotional and behavioral disorders. 

Mohamed Nasr

Advisor: Jim Shriner

Mohamed worked in Egypt for 10 years and in Qatar for three years as an English teacher before he was drawn into the field of special education. He has worked as a special education teacher, coordinator in a public secondary school, and head of the department of Special Education. Mohamed’s research  of interest is inclusion to students with disabilities in mainstream education.

Courtney O'Grady

Advisor: Michaelene Ostrosky

Courtney has over ten years experience teaching preschool and as an adjunct instructor at teaching courses in child development and early childhood special education. Her research interests include equity, challenging behavior, and social-emotional competencies. She is passionate about supporting high quality preschool experiences for all children. 

Ricky Price

Richard (he/him/his) received a Master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, Kinesiology, and Applied Behavior Analysis from Michigan State University. Richard then served as a Behavior Analyst, working specifically with school and transition-aged youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Developing the knowledge in understanding all aspects of a person with a disability and working in interdisciplinary teams is a passion of his. Richard's research interests, specific to transition-aged youth with disabilities, include but are not limited to advocacy training, transportation training, transition/vocational planning, physical health, mental health, sexual health/education, functional living/independence, and cultural aspects of disability. 

When not learning, you can find Richard with his friends, enjoying life, dancing, and traveling the world. 


Saury Ramos-Torres

Advisor: Stacy Dymond

Saury Ramos-Torres was a teacher in Puerto Rico. During her first year, she worked with infants and toddlers and also served as a Spanish teacher. Later, she worked with students with severe disabilities, such as Rett syndrome, cerebral palsy and others. In her third year, she had a group of preschool students with autism.

Saury’s research interest is in the knowledge and skills that secondary special education teachers need to prepare students with severe disabilities for employment.

Kristina Rios

Advisor: Meghan Burke

Kristina Rios is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education. 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.

Magen Rooney

Advisor: Stacy Dymond

Magen worked in Chicago Public Schools for three years as a high school teacher. Her first year was spent co-teaching math and science courses, while during her second two years she led a transition-focused classroom for students with moderate to severe disabilities. Magen’s research interests include strategies for increasing inclusive employment and education opportunities for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

Michelle Sands

Advisor: Hedda Meadan

Michelle worked for over 15 years in the early childhood field as a blended classroom teacher, research support assistant, instructional coach, curriculum specialist, special education coordinator, and assistant principal in a variety of settings. Michelle's interests relate to improving the collaboration between early intervention, early childhood, and elementary programs, implementing recommended practices as they relate to transitions, and collaboration with families and communities, all as ways to improve student outcomes.

Kristen Schraml-Block

Advisor: Micki Ostrosky

Kristen Schraml-Block is an early interventionist, implementing family-centered, capacity-building practices with families caring for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities. She also develops and facilitates learning opportunities for professionals in the field. Her current research interests include exploring families’ experiences in early intervention.

Ban Sleiman Haidar

Advisor: Catherine Corr

Ban received a BA in Psychology from the American University of Beirut and M.Ed. in School Counseling from Suffolk University in Boston. Ban served as a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst for the Santa Barbara Unified School District in CA and was a clinical supervisor for an ABA clinic in Urbana IL.

Ban is interested in culturally responsive and evidence-based interventions for autism. She wants to develop effective and affordable teaching approaches to stakeholders who work with children diagnosed with autism and other developmental disorders.

Nicole Smith

Nicole is a pediatric speech-language pathologist who primarily treats Early Intervention population and AAC users and their families. She graduated from Eastern Illinois University with her Bachelors and Masters degrees. Nicole is an active member of the Illinois Speech-Language Hearing Association (ISHA) and is currently co-chair of the Early Intervention Committee. In February 2019, she and her husband became licensed foster parents. Nicole’s primary areas of interest include trauma effects on early language development and how parent coaching and home visiting programs impact trauma in development.

Julia Snider

Advisor: Stacy Dymond

Prior to entering the doctoral program, Julia worked in the Chicago Public Schools for 8 years as a special education teacher and an inclusion facilitator. Julia’s passion is in promoting the meaningful inclusion of students with severe disabilities within the general education classroom. Her current research examines the curricular areas and contexts in which students with severe disabilities receive instruction. 

Crystal Williams

Crystal received her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Illinois in 2019. Since then, she has worked in early intervention as a developmental therapist. Prior to returning to the PhD program, Crystal also worked at Champaign County Head Start as the Infant and Toddler Specialist, in which she provided training and coaching for early head start teachers. Crystal’s research interests include increasing empowerment of all caregivers of children with delays and disabilities and increasing the quality of early intervention teams. In her free time, Crystal enjoys reading, baking, and going on bike rides.