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Lasell University, UMass Lowell Receive Grant

March 03, 2022

Lasell University and UMass Lowell announced a joint venture designed to diversify the pipeline of students pursuing careers in special education and applied behavior analysis.

With a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Lasell and UMass Lowell faculty will develop an interdisciplinary graduate level program that will prepare professionals to meet the special educational needs of school-aged students (K-8) with autism spectrum disorder and related disabilities. 

As part of the grant, full scholarships will be awarded to a cohort of 24 graduate students. Twelve participants representing each institution will enter the program beginning in fall 2022.

The master’s program will encourage the next generation of educators to work in concert to support children in grades K-8 by introducing a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to special education and applied behavioral analysis while integrating culturally responsive methodologies to address the needs of a growingly diverse student population. Together, Lasell and UMass Lowell graduate students will attend coordinated seminars and workshops that promote best practices and reinforce collaboration and problem-solving. 

This new initiative is a natural extension of the Pathways to Teacher Diversity (PTD) program established at Lasell in 2015 by Professor Claudia Rinaldi, who chairs the Newton-based university’s education department. PTD mentors undergraduate students representing diverse backgrounds and experiences, encouraging them to contemplate careers as educators in their local communities. This spring, the first cohort of undergraduates will complete the program. Since its launch, the PTD program has brought culturally and linguistically diverse students to the teaching profession. In the last five years alone, PTD has increased diversity in the teacher preparation program from 3 percent to 22 percent in the teacher preparation program. 

“Schools here and across the country have grown increasingly more diverse, yet the educator workforce does not reflect this evolution within our communities,” said Rinaldi. “Today, in the U.S, as many as 87% of all teachers are white. The more students see and hear themselves, their cultures, and their languages in the classroom, the more likely they are to experience academic success and pursue teaching as a career.” For the past six years, Lasell has partnered with 11 Massachusetts district high schools in Boston, Lawrence, Martha’s Vineyard, Milford, and Marlborough among others, to engage students considering careers in education.

“Under the PTD model, we pair Lasell undergrad education mentors with high school students through in-person sessions on campus, at the participating high schools and via online experiences,” said Rinaldi. “The partnership with UMass Lowell is the logical next step in our efforts to bring new cross-discipline and cultural responsiveness practices to special education.”

In addition to Rinaldi, the team behind this new alliance includes faculty from both schools who are experts in special education, applied behavior analysis, key public schools and nonprofit autism service organizations.