6/13/2022
The MNLEND graduating class of 2022.

From developing more inclusive 4-H programs to identifying best practices in teaching medical and dental students about intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), the Institute’s 2021-22 Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) program fellows made significant contributions to the field. On May 19, ICI celebrated their accomplishments at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.

“We grew and learned from one another,” said ICI Director Amy Hewitt, addressing the 33 newest MNLEND alumni online and at McNamara. “We have a better understanding of the various professional roles in supporting individuals with neurological and developmental disabilities and greater clarity on the truths experienced by people with disabilities and their families. We understand better the disparities and disproportionality experienced by people with disabilities who have intersecting identities based on race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Most import, we all learned together, and are better people because we did.” 

As part of the MNLEND program, each fellow selects a project of importance to the disability community. Projects typically build on and contribute to ICI’s ongoing work in the field, so that over time, the work has lasting value and cumulative effects. In addition to ICI, MNLEND partners include the College of Education + Human Development, the School of Medicine’s Pediatrics Department, and the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Speech Language and Hearing Services.  

“Some fellows did research, some worked on community-based projects. All of them made a significant contribution through their work,” said ICI’s Jennifer Hall-Lande, who serves as a MNLEND mentor. The program is funded by the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau. 

Several fellows this year worked on Fostering Future Leaders, a pilot project serving undergraduate students who are first-generation college students, low income, or from underrepresented communities. The project helps these students explore career and graduate school opportunities in the maternal and child health disciplines. Another created a survey to study how Somali families of children with disabilities experience services for transitioning out of high school.  

Others promoted public awareness campaigns about the early signs of autism, created community discussions about disability advocacy, and translated COVID-19 vaccine information into several languages. 

Partnering with ICI’s TeleOutreach Center and other partners, fellow Cari Michaels is helping create a five-week postpartum education and support program for Somali parents to promote mental wellbeing and self-care for moms and newborns. 

In the alumni keynote address, Sheyhan Gelle (MNLEND 2020-21) urged the cohort to be relentless in pursuing their passions. Gelle, who has worked in a variety of social service roles, has a son with autism. 

“After you leave here today, remember you are in a position to create inclusive spaces,” she said. “Think of my son, and the many other children who will be impacted by the decisions you make.”