Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbility - George Mason University
About Us

The Kellar Institute for Human DisAbilities (KIHd) is an interdisciplinary campus-based organization focusing on improving the lives and productivity of children and adults with disabilities. KIHd combines the resources of the university with local, state, regional, national, public, and private sector agencies and organizations to develop products, services, and programs for persons with disabilities.

Key Faculty and Mentors of PRISE Students



PRISE Program Director at George Mason University
Dr. Sarah A. Nagro
earned her doctorate in Special Education from Johns Hopkins University and is currently an assistant professor at George Mason University in the School of Education. Her research focuses on determining best practices for teacher education in special education. Specifically, she focuses on understanding effective approaches to preparing profession-ready teachers through meaningful field-based experiences that emphasize reflection, self-evaluation, and professional buy-in using technology enhanced and video-based activities. Sarah is interested in understanding how to help teacher candidates and novice teachers find success when educating students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms with the goal of retaining high quality professionals. Dr. Nagro is an Executive Board Member for the Teacher Education Division (TED) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) as well as the Higher Education Consortium for Special Education.
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Dr. Kristen O’Brien is an Assistant Professor of Special Education and Program Advancement Liaison in the Division of Special Education and disAbility Research at George Mason University. In her role as Program Advancement Liaison, Dr. O’Brien manages internships and field experiences in Mason’s special education teacher licensure programs, supports internship supervisors and mentor teachers, develops and maintains K-12 school partnerships, and helps lead program progress monitoring and accreditation. Her current research interests include eCoaching and technology-based supports within special education teacher candidates’ clinical experiences, and special educators’ working conditions.
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Dr. Pamela Baker, Division Director of Special Education and disAbility Research, oversees all special education programs at GMU and studies ways to facilitate the responsible inclusions of learners with special needs. Dr. Baker currently serves as an officer on the Council of Administrators of Special Education. Dr. Baker mentors early career faculty, doctoral students, inservice teachers, master’s students and now with the introduction of the new special education undergraduate program, Dr. Baker looks forward to working with the undergraduates seeking teaching licensure.
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PRISE Program Co-Director at Virginia Commonwealth University
Dr. Colleen Thoma
is a nationally recognized leader in the area of self-determination and transition planning, particularly focusing on the preparation of teachers and related services personnel to facilitate self-determined transition planning for students with disabilities. She recently served as project director and principal investigator for a leadership training project funded by the U.S. Department of Education aimed to prepare future special education faculty who are research to policy advocates. This project provided funding for two cohorts of 10 scholars in the doctoral program at VCU. For more information about this project, watch an informational webinar or download the presentation slides (PDF). She is a past President of the Division on Career Development and Transition and currently is Co-Editor of Inclusion, an online journal of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).

PRISE Program Co-Director at Virginia Commonwealth University
Dr. LaRon Scott
associate professor with the VCU School of Education, teaches graduate courses (both online and face-to-face) in teaching methods, critical issues in special education, collaboration and universal design for learning. Scott currently serves as the director of the undergraduate program in special education’s general education track, managing the recruitment, improvement, and support of candidates. He also serves as the director of the state-funded COVE program, an online, graduate-level program that leads to a five-year renewable license with an endorsement in special education general curriculum. Scott has authored books and manuscripts on improving underrepresented racially diverse teacher educators, personnel preparation programs, universal design for learning and universal design for transition planning for students with disabilities. He has also served as a committee member of the elections board for the Council for Exceptional Children.
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Dr. Jason Chow received his Ph.D. in special education from Vanderbilt University. The overall goal of his research agenda is to gain a deeper understanding of how to mitigate the adverse effects of language and behavioral deficits in educational contexts. Specifically, his works draws from the fields of education, psychological, and speech and hearing sciences. Chow has taught courses in educational research methods and high-incidence disabilities, and is certified in teaching students with high-incidence disabilities.
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Dr. Laurie U. deBettencourt, professor and program lead for the special education programs at the School of Education, oversees all master’s programs and certificates within the special education programs. In addition, she is principal investigator on a MSDE funded program training paraprofessionals to be special educators. She serves as the coordinator for a preservice training partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools. She is the past Editor of TESE journal. Dr. deBettencourt has co-authored several textbooks and written numerous articles related to instruction of students with mild to moderate disabilities. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship at the Special Education Institute of Eötvös Loránd University, Atypical Behaviour & Cognition in Budapest, Hungary, during the spring semester of 2018.
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Dr. Jacqueline Rodriguez is the AACTE assistant vice president for programs and professional learning. Rodriguez is an experienced teacher, teacher leader, and professor. Prior to joining AACTE, Rodriguez served the College of William & Mary in many capacities, including as a faculty member in the School of Education (areas of teaching and research: inclusive education, culturally and linguistically diverse exceptional learners, culturally responsive teacher preparation, assessment in special education, special education law and policy). Rodriguez is active in state, national, and international professional organizations where she supports increased access for students with exceptionalities and student veterans to institutes of higher education, high-quality teacher preparation, and meaningful policies to support diverse and exceptional learners. Currently, Rodriguez is the policy and advocacy chair for the Teacher Education Division of CEC. She also serves as the secretary to the Higher Education Consortium for Special Education, and is a member of the State of Virginia’s Advisory Committee for Disability Access to Higher Education. She is a former board member of the Division for International Special Needs Education and Services.
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Dr. Jane West, consultant to HECSE, TED, and AACTE, is dedicated to connecting professionals and other stakeholders to policy makers. As a former teacher with a doctorate in special education and thirty years of policy experience in the nation's capital, she connects education organizations and professionals to the policy making process. Professionals and organizations interact directly with policy makers and inform deliberations with knowledge, expertise and experience from the real world of teaching and learning. Dr. West has a passion for professional development for doctoral students and practicing educators results in policy-savvy professionals who understand the policy process and how to engage with it.
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