Opportunity of a Lifetime: My Experience as an OSEP Scholar

National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 8–12, 2023

This Teacher Appreciation Week, a few Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Scholars who completed their degree programs with support from a Personnel Development to Improve Services for Children with Disabilities (ALN 84.325) discretionary grant administered by the Office of Special Education Programs shared “Why I Teach.”

Stacy Kelly

By: Stacy Kelly, Ed.D., TVI, COMS, CATIS

I always knew with the highest degree of certainty from a very early age that I wanted to be a teacher. In 2005, I was living this dream working full-time as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) in the public schools. I received a flyer from my colleague with boldface type font advertising across the top of the page “The Opportunity of a Lifetime.” Those words enticed me to read further.

The Pennsylvania College of Optometry, now Salus University, announced in the flyer that they established the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment (NCLVI), a collaborative agreement funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The flyer also provided a description of the NCLVI Fellowship.

The opportunity provided full tuition and a living stipend to NCLVI Fellows for up to four years of full-time study while they earned their doctorate at any one of 14 Consortium Member Universities. The program was going to select two national cohorts of qualified individuals committed to the education of children who are blind or visually impaired. The first cohort would start in the fall of 2005 and second would start in the fall of 2006.

I read the NCLVI Fellowship description and contacted Dr. Gaylen Kapperman at Northern Illinois University (NIU). NIU was one of the 14 NCLVI Consortium Member Universities listed on the flyer, and it was also located in my geographic area. I applied for and was accepted into the first NCLVI cohort, which provided a unique doctoral study experience for more than 20 fellows.

Doctoral Program Plus an Enrichment Program

The magic and everlasting positive impact of the NCLVI for me was the structured added-value enrichment program in addition to the university doctoral program in special education that each NCLVI Fellow experienced.

The enrichment program was designed by the NCLVI University Consortium with input from a Public Advisory Council (PAC) that included national professional, consumer and parent organizations in the field of blindness, and other relevant professional organizations in higher education and special education.

The enrichment program included face-to-face research and issue-based seminars; online discussions; cohort listservs; opportunities for short and long-term field-work experiences and internships that included housing provided by members of the PAC and the organizations they represent; and funds for travel and registration at national conferences and meetings.

The NCLVI University Consortium and PAC connected NCLVI Fellows with each other regardless of geographic location of an individual NCLVI Fellow’s doctoral training program, and all benefited from this high degree of networking and innovative partnership. In fact, NCLVI Fellows spread out across the United States at the various NCLVI Consortium Member Universities worked together regularly because of the NCLVI enrichment program. NCLVI Fellows also worked together in-person during national conferences and meetings and during in-person NCLVI Consortium meetings with the PAC and the university faculty involved in this consortium.

First of Its Kind Program

The NCLVI enrichment activities provided OSEP Scholars with opportunities never before enjoyed by doctoral students either individually or as a group. The NCLVI was the first OSEP Scholar training program of its kind.

It was amazing to be an OSEP Scholar and be a part of a project that was advancing not only a particular field of study but OSEP Scholar training for the long term. The NCLVI has served as a model and as a blueprint for other OSEP doctoral and scholar training programs for many years now.

The NCLVI expanded beyond the field of visual impairments to include sensory disabilities and was renamed the National Leadership Center for Sensory Disabilities (NLCSD) in future iterations. The NLCSD was also an OSEP-funded collaborative agreement and based upon the NCLVI conceptual framework.

When I think back to 2005 and about “The Opportunity of a Lifetime” from NCLVI, I wholeheartedly agree with that messaging. The NCLVI was the opportunity of a lifetime in large part because more people worked together during the NCLVI and the NLCSD than possibly any other projects in the history of the fields of sensory disabilities. The two projects worked to address the longstanding shortages of leadership personnel in the visual impairment and sensory disabilities fields.

In many ways, things have come full circle for many OSEP Scholars because of the NCLVI and NLCSD.

I graduated in 2008 from NIU having completed my doctorate degree in educational psychology with an emphasis in visual impairments. Today, I am a full professor at NIU. Dr. Kapperman who recruited me to apply for the NCLVI now holds the status of professor emeritus at NIU.

Many of the NCLVI Fellows from the 2005 and 2006 cohorts have since completed the NCLVI doctoral fellowship more than a decade ago. Many members of these cohorts are now established in leadership positions throughout the field of visual impairments, including at institutions of higher education where we actively recruit OSEP Scholars. Others have served on the NLCSD University Consortium as faculty members and have also recruited NLCSD Fellows to study at their universities.

When NLCSD Fellows complete their programs, they go on to meet the needs for personnel in leadership positions and participate in recruitment of their own now. This OSEP Scholar personnel preparation cycle continues in this way as we continue to learn, grow, and work together.

Stacy Kelly, Ed.D., is a professor and coordinator, Visual Disabilities Program, at Northern Illinois University. She is a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI), Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS), and Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist for People with Visual Impairments (CATIS). Kelly completed her doctoral degree in educational psychology with an emphasis in visual disabilities at Northern Illinois University in 2008. She was an OSEP Personnel Development Program grant, National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment (NCLVI) Doctoral Fellow and OSEP Scholar.

About OSEP Scholars and Personnel Development Program Grants

The U.S. Department of Education funds discretionary grants used for professional development to improve services results for children with disabilities. Individuals interested in finding a Personnel Development Program that meets their needs can visit the OSEP IDEAs That Work’s Discretionary Grants Database, select the “Program” filter “Personnel Development” and then use additional search options such as “State,” “Disability,” “Age of Children,” or “Type of Competition.”

Organizations interested in open grant competitions for Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities (84.325) can learn more on the Applicant Information page.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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