As we recruit for the AAC Leadership Project, we want to introduce you to one of our current students, Salena Babb, who is in her final year of the doctoral program in Special Education.
Prior to pursuing her doctoral degree, Salena worked as an Autism support teacher. She worked in K-12 settings, but spent the majority of her clinical work with adolescents and adults with ASD. She primarily focused on teaching functional communication skills in addition to preparing her students for ‘life after graduation.’ These included transition services, activities of daily living, and employment skills.
Now well into her doctoral studies, Salena’s research is focused on the implementation of AAC within community, vocational, and social settings for adolescents with severe disabilities and complex communication needs. Specifically, she is interested in the social interactions that occur during these activities and how to incorporate AAC to support both the individual and the partner.
We sat down with Salena to see why she applied to the grant, what she has enjoyed thus far, and if she had any advice for potential applicants.
Why did you apply to the grant?
This was an incredible opportunity that I just knew I couldn’t pass up. I knew that if I didn’t apply, it would be something always in the back of my mind wondering ‘What if?’ During my time in the classroom, I became very interested in incorporating technology into my teaching and realized there were many questions that we didn’t have the answers to. I became increasingly interested in not only wanting to find the answers for myself and for my students, but also wanting to be able to support other teachers and their students as well.
What sold me on this program was the faculty. My main priority in attending graduate school was that I wanted to help people and make a real difference. The faculty at Penn State are always client-focused and truly live by the phrase ‘Nothing about us without us.’ They are committed to meeting the needs of individuals who use AAC and it is evident in their work and mission.
What have been your favorite part of the program?
The unique aspect of Penn State’s program is that you get to be a part of a research team. From the moment I started, I was able to glean insights into current and past research, learn from colleagues, and also have a place to voice thoughts and ideas during weekly research meetings. I absolutely love having the opportunity to work with a team each week —we are able to brainstorm, hypothesize, and solve problems together. The opportunities for collaboration are incredible!
What are your future goals, post-graduation?
My goal is to continue my line of research and provide training for both pre-service and in-service teachers.
What would you say to others who are considering applying for the grant?
This program changed my life. It has challenged me and stretched me in so many ways—For the better! If you are interested in AAC, this program is for you!
Many thanks to Salena for sharing her insights!
The AAC Leadership Project is a doctoral fellowship program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education (H325D170024). If you would like more information, click here.