October 2022
Akeem Anderson.

Akeem Anderson, a University of Minnesota J.D./Ph.D. student interested in the intersection of race, health, and law, is adding the Institute’s Disability Policy and Services Certificate to his already hefty academic pursuits.

As a direct support professional (DSP), Ellen Wiederhoeft wants to better understand the policies and infrastructure affecting the lives of children and adults with disabilities.

Julie Li Yang wants to deepen her skills in helping her three children with autism, and at the same time broaden her future career aspirations as she completes her master’s degree in public health.

For her independent learning experience as part of the certificate program, Mary Troullier envisions building on her experience teaching yoga to students with disabilities to develop training materials for other teachers. The certificate will enhance her credentials as she also pursues a master’s degree in physical activity and health.

two photos of women, both smiling. In the first photo, Ellen, has chin length light brown curly hair. She is wearing a cream colored blouse over a dark t-shirt. The second photo, Mary, has red hair piled on top of her head in a bun. She is wearing a white button up blouse.

Ellen Wiederhoeft and Mary Troullier

At any given time, about 40 students around campus, like Anderson (MNLEND 2022-23), Yang (MNLEND 2021-22), Troullier (MNLEND 2022-23) and Wiederhoeft (MNLEND 2022-23), are pursuing the certificate credential, a collaborative effort of the Institute on Community Integration and the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development within the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

The program consists of a three-credit core course taught in the spring and summer terms, six credits of specialized coursework, and an individualized learning experience that includes working directly with people with disabilities or designing disability research or policy, along with participating in interdisciplinary discussion groups.

“This certificate is often an add-on to students’ other graduate work at the University,” said Rebecca Dosch Brown, director of the certificate program and interdisciplinary education director for the Institute. “It can be used as a career development step into the disability field, and it is also integral to the nursing doctorate program. We collaborate with the nursing school so that every doctoral nursing student earns the certificate seamlessly to round out their training. In this program, they get to learn about the social model of disability, or the structural barriers people with disabilities face. They also hear directly from policymakers, and the overall experience often changes how future practitioners and leaders understand disability in society.”

Dosch Brown herself, in fact, completed the certificate earlier in her career as she transitioned from working as a teacher adviser to working in the disability justice and advocacy field.

Anderson, who has a keen interest in research pertaining to race, class, gender, religion, and other aspects of identity as they affect health policies and systemic structures, is also a current MNLEND fellow. He’s using both experiences to help inform his current Ph.D. work in American studies and his future work in law and policy.

“My research looks at the origin of skepticism of the healthcare system in communities of color,” he said.

Yang, also a MNLEND fellow, is using the certificate to deepen her disability credentials as she also pursues a master’s degree in the School of Public Health.

“My planned trajectory in the grad program was to focus on research, maybe childhood obesity. Once my son was diagnosed with autism, my whole life and my education plan changed,” said Yang. As a MNLEND fellow, Yang worked on promoting early intervention autism services in the Hmong community.

Wiederhoeft, meanwhile, is enrolled in the certificate program and also is in this year’s MNLEND cohort.

“In the class, I felt an increased interest because of my experience as a DSP,” she said. “There were a lot of opportunities for me to voice opinions about misconceptions about support staff and hear from a lot of different professionals who work with people with disabilities. Home-based support is often invisible, so I definitely tried to bring home the value of home-based support to nurses and others in the class.

“The biggest thing I appreciate about the certificate is the ability to tailor it to my career and professional goals. I wanted to explore all the aspects of disability.”

Troullier, who worked at the University’s Disability Resource Center as an undergraduate student, said the experience opened her eyes to the gaps and barriers people with disabilities face when it comes to physical activity and fun.

“It showed me how much work there is still to do in the disabilities field,” she said. “A lot of yoga spaces say they want to be welcoming to everyone, but often that extends to race and other aspects of identity but not to disability.”

People interested in the certificate program should email Dosch Brown at dosch018@umn.edu.