Texas Tech University

Sowell Center Receives $1.25 Million U.S. Dept. of Education Grant

Emily Gardner

July 20, 2015

The grant lasts five years and expands the center’s graduate-level programs.

Nora Griffin-Shirley, Pogrund, Kackley
(l-r) Nora Griffin-Shirley,
Rona Pogrund and Leigh Kackley

The Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities at Texas Tech University received a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Office of Special Education Programs Personnel Preparation grant begins Aug. 1 and lasts for five years.

The Sowell Center project that won the grant, Collaboration and Assistive Technology for Students with Sensory Impairments (Project CAT-SI), allows 40 new students split between two groups to enter the center's graduate programs in the areas of visual impairment, orientation and mobility, deaf/hard of hearing and deafblindness. The Sowell Center is one of three university programs in the low-incidence priority area to receive the grant. Sixty-four programs applied and 14 received grant funding. The focus of the program is training teachers to collaborate with the rest of a student's educational team and families and to evaluate and instruct students in assistive technology.

“Receiving this federal grant supports the mission of the Sowell Center to enhance the quality of life, including education and socialization, for students with sensory impairments through personnel preparation, research and public service,” said Rona Pogrund, visual impairment program coordinator. “It will increase the number of qualified teachers in rural and high-need areas of the country to meet the specialized needs of students with visual impairments, deafness and deafblindness so they can reach their potential. By receiving this grant, we also are able to grow our distance education graduate programs in these areas.”

Project CAT-SI builds on the Sowell Center's current graduate-level certifications that prepare teachers to work with sensory impaired students from birth through age 22. The project uses partnerships made through a similar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which is in its fourth year. The grant funds students' tuition, books and travel to the Sowell Center for a graduate certificate in deafblindness for students from Texas as well as a certification in deafblindness, orientation and mobility, deaf/hard of hearing and visual impairment for students from other states the center collaborates with, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The Sowell Center is part of the College of Education. More than 180 graduate students are registered in the four areas of study – visual impairment, deafblindness, orientation and mobility and deaf/hard of hearing – from throughout Texas and the nation. Students can receive a certificate with a concentration in one of the four areas and can continue their education to receive a master's degree in special education.