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Class of 2009-2010

Alisha Adleman, Cognitive Impairment

Alisha is an undergraduate major in Cognitive Impairment and is a second-year senior planning to graduate in April 2010.  In her essay Alisha writes that she has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.  She believes that she has a true passion for teaching and has spent countless hours as a volunteer in early elementary and elementary school classrooms working with students with cognitive impairment, emotional impairment and autism.  Alisha has also served as the primary babysitter for a set of triplet boys, one of whom is autistic.  She brings her love for dance to her daily activities teaching jazz and acrobatic classes for children ranging in age from four to fourteen.  Alisha credits her role as a dance teacher with building confidence, responsibility, pride and maturity, along with the ability to learn from the students she teaches. 

Throughout her tenure at EMU Alisha has worked in EMU’s Office of Admissions as a student assistant to Thomas Kasper, one of the Admissions Advisors.  In his letter of recommendation he writes that Alisha is a student who “…excels in her pursuits both in and out of the classroom”. He noted that she has consistently maintained a high grade point average with a current GPA of 3.9 on a 4-point scale.  In addition to maintaining a 3.9 GPA while carrying a full academic load and working 12 hours each week as a work-study student, Alicia serves as the Department of Special Education’s undergraduate representative to the Professional Education Advisory Committee in the College of Education; is an active member of Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society; and, is an active member of the Student Council for Exceptional Children. 

Alisha is truly one of those students who consistently demonstrates the passion, commitment, and energy – along with exemplary academic and applied skills – to achieve her “dream” of becoming a teacher of students with disabilities.  Alisha is highly regarded by department faculty and will, without question, “do us proud” in the field of professional practice.

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Michele Alvarez, Emotional Impairment

Like Alisha, Michele is a second-year Senior who plans to graduate in April 2010.  Michele is a major in Emotional Impairment and “came” to the field of Special Education via a rather unusual route.  Michele writes that while she was caring for her terminally ill father she realized that she had developed a rather lengthy “to do” list and that she needed to begin to address her list so she would not “…leave this earth with a list of regrets”.  Michele indicated that the number one item on her list, and “…indeed the most daunting…” was to finish college.  One year after her father’s death Michele moved to Michigan with her husband and seven year old daughter.  Her daughter’s teacher suggested that Michele obtain her substitute teaching license. Upon receiving her license Michele discovered how excited she was to work in classrooms.  After several weeks she was asked to substitute in an elementary special education classroom.  Michele writes that “…the very next day I was looking into what it would take to obtain my certification in special education – my journey had officially begun.” 

Michele began her coursework at Monroe County Community College and then transferred to EMU where she has maintained a 4.0 grade point average while caring for her family and working two jobs to help with her family’s finances.  She cites her Dean’s List “status” and her induction into Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society as sources of great personal pride.  Michele has served as a volunteer with the Stepping Stones Therapeutic Riding Center, and has also become quite active in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy working to have her dog, Dakota, complete training to serve as a therapy dog providing support to children experiencing emotional difficulties. 

Michele writes that one of the most exciting groups she has joined since moving to Michigan is a national, not-for-profit group called “Girls on the Run”.  This spring will be Michele’s fifth season serving as a coach for girls from 3rd through 5th grade.  For 10 weeks the girls work on developing positive self esteem, a healthy body image and respect for themselves with the goal of finishing a 5K race held in Ann Arbor.  Michele writes:  “Every season I find girls who struggle with significant family and emotional issues and I am always struck by their inner strength when they cross that finish line with a smile on their face”.   Department faculty note that Michele will soon cross her own “finish line” and will be an exemplary teacher of students with emotional impairment.

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Kelli Bracken

Kelli Bracken

Kelli Bracken, Hearing Impairment

Kelli is a graduate major in Hearing Impairment and is a part of the department’s SEM-T program.  Kelli completed her undergraduate degree in Spanish/Hispanic Studies and English Literature at the University of Michigan – Dearborn.  Upon graduation she intended to enter law school at the University of Detroit-Mercy, but had second, “and third” thoughts and chose to “abandon” law school.  In 2007 she received a phone call from one of her best friends who was working abroad in China. Kelli’s friend asked her if she would be interested in backpacking in Asia and Australia and “without hesitation” Kelli purchased an airline ticket and flew to Syndney, Australia.  After traveling the east coast of Australia the friends flew to Bangkok, Thailand.  Kelli reported that the incredible poverty she saw in Thailand “…began to change the way I saw myself and my place in my own community”.  She found that no matter how difficult the daily struggle was for the Thai people, family and friends “came first”. 

As her journey ended in China, Kelli was hired to teach at the Chiang Jiang Professional University in Wuhan, China.  Through this experience Kelli “…fell in love with teaching”.  Although she had never considered teaching as a career, she discovered she was “completely at ease” in the classroom and that the interactions with her students “…gave me the greatest satisfaction and a sense of purpose I had ever known”. 

Kelli returned to the states in time to begin the fall 2008 semester at EMU, and although “completely broke” she borrowed money from her family to pay for her tuition and took a job as a caretaker for a nine-year old boy with Angelman Syndrome.  She also was hired as a Tutor at the Holman Learning Center on the EMU campus and is busy learning “…everything I can about teaching”.  Kelli says that her experiences have brought her to a point where she knows she wants to “…live my life with purpose and to serve those without a voice.  Teaching is my passion in life”. 

In his letter of support, Dr. Phil Smith writes: “Kelli is one of those students whose excitement about teaching, and broad life experiences, will certainly enrich and enhance the education of her future students”. 

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Amy Chabot

Amy Chabot

Amy Chabot, Autism Spectrum Disorders

Amy is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders.  All of her life she knew she wanted to be a teacher, and it was the only career goal she ever considered.  She learned that she wanted to be a Special Education teacher when her cousin was diagnosed with multiple disabilities and she saw, first hand, how he struggled to learn and how cruel some people can be in their comments and actions toward children with disabilities.  Amy earned her undergraduate degree at EMU in Emotional Impairment and during her first year of teaching she taught two boys with autism.  In the school where she worked her fellow teachers had very negative views of autism and “…made it clear that these children were not welcome” in the school.  She writes that she worked very hard to provide colleagues with information about autism and about the positive attributes of children with autism, but without much success.  Amy and her two students moved to a different school the following year and four other students with autism joined their class.  Again she worked hard to change the attitudes of her colleagues, emphasizing that “…children with autism are children first and have the same rights as other children without autism”.

During her teaching experience it became clear that her students experienced great difficulty with communication.  Amy decided that she could use her knowledge of computers and computer programs to support and facilitate her students’ communication skills.  She designed visual schedules and used a touch screen computer equipped with word prediction software to help students with limited motor movement have access to communication.  Amy writes that her students enjoyed coming to school and being a part of her classroom, providing her with “…one of the most rewarding experiences of my life”.  Amy plans to continue to focus on helping people better understand Autism Spectrum Disorders in order to reduce and eliminate the fears that many people hold about students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In her letter of support, Dr. Sally Burton-Hoyle writes:  “Amy will be a leader in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders” and further notes that she is an exemplary advocate for children with disabilities and their families.

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Casey Harhold, Cognitive Impairment

Casey is a second year senior majoring in Cognitive Impairment and planning to graduate in April 2010.  Casey is also the younger sister of Joni Harhold who is a member of the 2007 Class of Brehm Scholars.  Casey writes that she learned she wanted to become a teacher during the years that she and her sister and brother “played school”.  Casey said that her older sister, Joni, always “got to be the teacher”, and she and her brother were always the “students”.  Although learning was easy and fun for Casey, she noticed that her brother often struggled to learn and during their “play school” activities and she would always offer him some extra help.  From these experiences she perceived that not all people learn the same way and for some learning is easy while for others it is a struggle. 

During her high school years Casey served as a tutor for younger students spending time helping these students improve their reading skills.  She worked with a third grader who struggled significantly with reading and when she first began her work with the student she was barely able to read at the first grade level.  Casey noticed that her struggle with reading had also caused this student to demonstrate limited confidence and self-esteem.  As they worked together, the student began to increase her reading skills and began to believe in herself and her skills.  Casey writes that this child “…inspired me tremendously” and continues to remind her of the important link between self-esteem and learning.

Casey has continued her volunteer work through the RAP project at EMU, the ARC, and Special Olympics.  She is excited to be a major in Cognitive Impairment and “…can’t wait” until she’s completed her degree and is a teacher in a “real” classroom.  She not only wants her students to increase their skill levels, but more importantly she wants them to gain self-confidence, become comfortable in her classroom, to ask questions, and to smile and to help others. 

In her time in the Department of Special Education Casey has demonstrated strong leadership skills working with Professor Lori Parks to establish the EMU Student Chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association.  Given her demonstrated skill Casey is sure to become a leader in the field of Special Education.

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth Howard, Speech-Language Pathology

Elizabeth is a senior in the program area of Speech/Language Impairment with plans to graduate in April 2010.  Elizabeth is a member of EMU’s chapter of the National Student Speech, Language and Hearing Association (NSSLHA) and is a charter member of the Department’s Disabilities Empowerment and Advocacy League (DEAL) which is a student group founded to support and advocate for EMU students with disabilities. After graduation,  Elizabeth plans to enroll in EMU’s graduate program in Speech/Language Pathology and also complete her teacher certification in Elementary Education. 

Elizabeth comes to the field of special education via a very personal route.  She writes that she has faced a “…lifetime struggle with dyslexia, and as a student I require extra time and assistance to achieve my academic goals”.  Elizabeth has certainly pursued those goals at an exemplary level maintaining a GPA of 3.9 throughout her EMU career.  Based on her experiences with her own personal learning challenges, Elizabeth is committed to helping others face and overcome challenges, and in the process, learn to believe in themselves and their ability to succeed. 

Elizabeth’s life experiences have consistently focused on serving others.  She has served as a camp counselor in programs for both mainstream and disadvantaged children, worked in a therapeutic horseback riding program for students with profound disabilities, and spent time as a direct care provider for adults with developmental disabilities.  “All of these experiences have helped lead me to my current course of study”.   She works daily to develop her skills, perceptions and insights so that she will become a “…user friendly resource for students, families and colleagues”.

In her letter of support, Dr. Ann Orr writes:  “I am most impressed with Elizabeth’s passion toward the field of Special Education, and I have no doubt she will become a terrific special educator and future leader”.

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Erin Kanouse

Erin Kanouse

Erin Kanouse, Visual Impairment

Erin is a second-year senior in the program area of Visual Impairment, with plans to graduate in April 2010.  Erin has spent countless hours working with students with visual impairment in the Lincoln Park School District – specifically working with her mentor, Reeda Firth-Harrison at Carr Elementary School.   In her letter of recommendation, Reeda indicated that Erin is working with three students who are dual media learners (braille and print) which presents significant challenges for both student and teacher.  Reeda went on to say that “Erin has exceeded my expectations and the students enjoy the time they spend with her and are making good progress in their braille studies.”

Erin writes that “…the question of who I wanted to be was always an easy one to answer as I have always dreamed of being a teacher”.  Her interest in visual impairment was sparked when she met Bryn, who has become “an extraordinary” friend.  Erin notes that the “least interesting thing” about her friend is that he is blind.   Bryn’s determination to overcome the loss of his vision, to become independent and to live life with a true sense of joy have inspired Erin to pursue a career in the field of visual impairment. 

In addition to her work at Carr Elementary School, Erin also volunteers in a fifth grade classroom at Estabrook Elementary School in Ypsilanti, and serves as a mathematics tutor for an EMU student who is blind.  As a student at EMU, Erin has been frequently recognized by faculty members as extremely creative in her development of lesson plans and units of study that provide opportunities for all students to access new skills and achievements.  Erin aspires to be the “best teacher ever”, and based on the accolades she receives from those with whom she works, she is well on her way to accomplishing her goal.

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Donna Novack

Donna Novack

Donna Novack, Cognitive Impairment

Donna is a graduate major in Cognitive Impairment and is a part of the department’s SEM-T program.  Donna completed her undergraduate degree in Music Performance from the University of Michigan.  Donna began to play the piano at 6 years of age, “graduating” to the guitar at age 10, and finally “finding” the harp at age 13.  Her love of music has provided her with regional, national and international experiences which, in turn have led her to work as a producer and director of children’s television program.  She founded her own company, Harpbeat in 1994 and through this company Donna has provided live musical programming for chidren , with a “social studies twist”.  She and her partner, David Eversole, have traveled the Midwest performing concerts for children in schools and community agencies.  Donna and David have won many awards for their songs and their performances and one of their televised episodes, produced in partnership with the University of Michigan Hospital Burn Unit and the Ypsilanti Fire Department, received a first place finish in the 2000 International Hometown Video Festival. 

One of Donna’s performances at the Sunshine Children’s Home in Maumee, Ohio “brought” her to special education.  The Sunshine Children’s Home serves children with severe mental and physical disabilities.  Donna writes that “…this was my first time to be around children with profound disabilities and it left an indelible impression on me”.  One year after Donna’s experience with these children she gave birth to her second child, who was stillborn.  Donna and her husband learned that their child had multiple disabilities making survival very difficult.  Donna emerged from this personal tragedy knowing she wanted to “…work in some way to improve the quality of the lives of children with disabilities”.

For the past two years Donna has been working as a substitute teacher and a paraprofessional in a variety of special education classrooms in Washtenaw County.  She writes that these experiences have helped her learn where her skills and talent can have the greatest impact, and she now knows that working with children with cognitive impairment, as well as those with Autism, is where her true passion lies.  “I’ll always continue to be a performer, but I feel I need to give back more than I can when performing since a song, a dance or a joke last just a few minutes.  Being a teacher, and positively influencing a child, is something that can last a lifetime”.  Now, that’s truly giving back.

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