Department of Rehabilitative Services provides opportunities for UTPA students and community
Posted: 02/17/2003
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Since 1991, The University of Texas-Pan American Department of Rehabilitative Services has received more than $6 million in external funds due to the work of three individuals who continue to strive to bring more money and better opportunities for Hispanic students in the field of rehabilitative services.

WORKING TOGETHER - From left is John Heiden, coordinator of Special Projects; Dr. Thomas Shefcik, associate professor; and Dr. Bruce Reed, department coordinator in the Department of Rehabilitative Services, who have collaborated together to bring more than $2 million in U.S. Department of Education grants to the department.
In 2002, the grant writing team of Dr. Bruce Reed, department coordinator; Dr. Thomas Shefcik, undergraduate coordinator; and John Heiden, coordinator of Special Projects in the Department of Rehabilitative Services brought in $2.4 million in U.S. Department of Education grants - which will offer training, and research opportunities for students in the rehabilitation services field as well as individuals in the community with disabilities.

"I believe that an effective team is very important, and we have always had the full support of our dean's office, the Office of Sponsored Research and the Provost," Reed said. "Successfully obtaining and managing grants is hard work, and as a team, we are committed to this hard work."

The department began in 1987 and started with a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services. Today it offers a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling. Schefcik said the department has grown a lot in the number of faculty (from two to seven) and programs it offers.

Reed and Schefcik estimate more than 300 students have graduated from the program, and more than 80 percent of the graduates are hired by agencies, including the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, Texas Commission for the Blind and Easter Seals.

According to Reed, the largest employer of UTPA rehabilitation services graduates is the Texas Rehabilitation Commission.

"We think we have helped raise the quality of services for people with disabilities because that is really what we are all about," Reed said.

Both admit they are most proud of the fact that through the grants received they are able to provide students in the program with scholarships.

At least five different grants received over the years offer scholarships.

"The real purpose of the scholarship grants is to encourage students because there is a shortage of trained professionals to provide services to people with disabilities," Schefcik said. "Most of the money that we receive, at least 75 percent, goes to student support."

The U.S. Department of Education grants recently acquired by the department will fund the following projects for three years: Project Enhance, Capacity Building for Minorities and the Center for Hispanic Resources in Rehabilitation (CHRR) - all of which will focus on minorities, primarily Hispanics.

"There is a shortage of professionals in our field, particularly a shortage in minority students," Reed said. "I believe why we have been so successful is that we focus on Spanish speaking professionals and the government clearly recognizes that."

Project Enhance is a $1 million funded project with a goal of helping to increase the number of successful college students with disabilities at Hispanic serving institutions like UTPA. The project will conduct research, create a technology lab at UTPA to help students with disabilities, and also train others at colleges and universities on how to best meet the needs of people with disabilities.

Capacity Building for Minority Entities - a $675,000 project is mainly a research and training grant that will investigate why Hispanics with disabilities are not accessing available state/federal and non-profit agency services.

This research will be conducted on a national scale. CHRR - a $675,000 project - will assist in providing more qualified minority professionals, especially Hispanics, to work in rehabilitation.

For more information on the grants, contact Reed at 956/316-7036 or Schefcik at 956/381-2295.