UTRGV Rehab Services Program earns Two National Honors

Dr. Bruce Reed

UTRGV’s Dr. Bruce Reed named National Rehabilitation Educator of the Year

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – APRIL 19, 2016 – Dr. Bruce Reed, UTRGV professor and director of the university’s School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling, has been selected 2016 Rehabilitation Educator of the Year by the National Council on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE).

The award is presented to an individual demonstrating outstanding ability as a rehabilitation educator throughout their career. The selection committee included NCRE members and its leadership team.

Reed, who joined the UT Pan American faculty in 1993 and continues now with UTRGV, said he is thrilled and honored to receive the award.

“I think it is for contributions over a career, so it’s a nice recognition and it is very nice for the school,” he said.

Reed has served as the rehabilitation program’s director and department chair, as well as dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services. He has been instrumental in the development of its graduate programs, and has obtained more than $13 million in grants, many of which support student scholarships.

“Most of those scholarships are ones that pay for the students’ tuition fees and a monthly living expense, so they don’t have to work full time and can graduate without debt,” he said. “That certainly helps you start new programs and continue programs with enrollment, when you have those kinds of offers.”

When he arrived, the rehabilitation program had 40 undergraduate students and three full-time faculty, he said. In fall 2015, when the department was elevated to a school under the College of Health Affairs, it had 1,084 students – 926 undergraduate, 135 graduate and 23 Ph.D. students – and 25 full-time faculty members.

“Now, ours is the largest unit of rehab counseling in the United States, as measured by the number of faculty and students,” Reed said.

He attributes that growth to the region’s growing population, as well as to the employability of the program’s graduates.

“Our degree is such a broad-based field, our graduates can get employed in a lot of different settings – counseling, case management, addictions, job placement, behavioral/mental health and as educators,” he said.

The program is also well-placed nationally. Last year, it was ranked No. 15 of 88 schools in the country in U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” for its 2016 edition.

Reed’s colleague, Dr. Charlene Blankenship, associate professor in the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling, describes Reed as an excellent administrator and a prolific researcher and grant writer.

“But teaching and mentoring students are the positions he loves most,” she said. “He has a clear passion for teaching, backed up with a strong knowledge of rehabilitation counseling. He is always looking for opportunities to give students a chance to learn outside the classroom, and the time he has spent in administrative positions has been devoted to building a program to help students get the absolute most out of their time in college.”

Reed said that after earning his degree in history-Latin American Studies from the University of Colorado, he spent more than 10 years in various blue collar jobs. Reed, who has a mild form of muscular dystrophy, soon realized he had a need to interact with and help others who might have felt restricted in what they can do, as he once did when he learned of his illness.

“I started doing volunteer work with an at-risk member softball team and with people with disabilities … That led me to graduate school,” said Reed, who earned his master's degree in rehabilitation counseling and his Ph.D. in human rehabilitation from the University of Northern Colorado.

“In the first semester of my Ph.D. program, I was given the opportunity to start teaching undergraduate classes,” he said. “I immediately liked teaching and connecting with students.”

Rehabilitation counseling professor Dr. Jerome Fischer, who was among several faculty, including Blankenship, who nominated Reed for the NCRE award, said Reed’s attention to pedagogy, curriculum, accreditation and student learning outcomes are all part of his “students first” approach to serving students.

“When he engages with his students in the classroom and guides them into the path to becoming highly qualified rehabilitation professionals, he has, at the heart of all his interactions, the best interests of the student,” Fischer said.

Reed also has a long list of publications, professional presentations and service, both around the country and on the Valley. In the community, he is a board member for the Pride Home of Edinburg and the Palmer Drug Abuse Program of McAllen. Besides NCRE, he is an active member of NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, National Rehabilitation Association, Texas Society for Allied Health Professionals and the Association on Higher Education and Disability.

Reed says that, at this stage of his career, the ability to mentor Ph.D. caliber students and a younger generation of faculty is rewarding. And, he still “likes to build things.”

“What do I mean by that? To create new projects and programs that are needed,” he said. “It's hard work to create a new academic program. Right now we are trying to get a fully online bachelor’s program in addictions counseling and a deafness concentration spun into an interpreter training program. And we’re trying to create an externally funded center on disability research. So, I still get excited about building things.”

Reed will receive his award April 22 at the NCRE Spring 2016 National Conference in Newport Beach, Calif. UTRGV is a conference platinum sponsor this year.

The NCRE is a professional organization of educators dedicated to quality services for persons with disabilities through education and research. Formed in 1955, NCRE has evolved into the leading professional association for rehabilitation educators in the 21st century and has grown to represent more than 100 institutions of higher education and more than 400 members.

Lilia Ramírez

UTRGV’s Lilia Ramírez named NCRE Undergraduate Student of the Year

By Gail Fagan

EDINBURG, TEXAS – APRIL 19, 2016 – The dream of going to college never faded for Lilia Ramírez, now 46.

Despite challenges that could overwhelm students many years younger, the native of Mexico graduated from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in December 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation services with an addictions studies concentration. And this month, she picks up a special honor: She has been named Undergraduate Student of the Year by the National Council on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE).

 The award is presented to an undergraduate student who has demonstrated outstanding service, leadership, advocacy and/or research contributions in rehabilitation and/or with individuals with disabilities.

“I had a lot of issues in my own life and I want to help other people with their issues,” she said. “I want them to get out there, do something and have a normal life.”

After moving to the Rio Grande Valley in 1979, Ramírez, then 17, endured a rough upbringing at home and had to move out to live and work on her own. While she still hoped to graduate with her senior class, a hospital stay during her last semester was viewed by her high school as “dropping out.”

“I felt like such a failure because I had worked so hard throughout high school, and actually had good grades. I had plans to graduate and to go to college … the stigma was harsh,” she said.

So she fired up her determination, took another run at education and earned her GED, picked up some vocational training and worked at various jobs before moving to Oregon. There, she became a single mother to a special needs child, now 16. Returning to the Valley because of her daughter’s health issues, Ramírez worked at cleaning homes and in home health.

Later, she became a beautician, and it was at the spa where she worked that she met Leila Flores-Torres, M.A., LSSP, a licensed specialist in school psychology and a Ph.D. candidate in rehabilitation counseling at UTRGV.

“She was having trouble trying to raise a daughter, working two jobs and also being a provider for her grandmother,” said Flores, a Donna ISD special education supervisor, who ultimately nominated Ramírez for the NCRE recognition. “But she also talked to me about her goals and I saw how smart she was.”

With Flores’ encouragement, Ramírez started taking online classes at South Texas College and earned an associate degree in psychology in 2012. When she enrolled at UT Pan American, she started going to counseling services herself, which helped her cope with her own issues brought on by a challenging past.

Ramírez said she has appreciated the accessibility and helpfulness of faculty in the rehabilitation program.

“I liked that I could go any time and they would see me,” she said. “Even if I didn’t have an appointment, they were ready and available. They are very student-oriented.”

At the university, she became an enthusiastic and gifted researcher.

Working with faculty members Shawn Saladin, Ph.D., CRC, CPM, and John Ronnau, Ph.D., Ramírez helped coordinate the Community Health Education/Prevention (CHEP) Team to distribute health-related information and conduct nearly 1,000 surveys of Valley citizens regarding their health needs at area fleamarkets.

“The CHEP project was quite an undertaking,” Saladin said. “She set it up and was there supervising the project each Saturday for months. We promoted her to the CHEP coordinator because of her excellent work ethic and interpersonal skills. UTRGV is lucky to have a student of her caliber in our program.”

Ramírez has presented her CHEP-related research, as well as her findings regarding the needs of Mexican-American adolescents with autism spectrum disorders, and the vocational rehabilitation of Mexican-American women with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, locally and at the national and regional conferences of NCRE and The National Association for Multicultural Rehabilitation.

Currently, she is a special education instructional assistant in the Donna ISD and hopes to earn her teacher certification. Ramírez recently was accepted into UTRGV’s master’s degree program in rehabilitation counseling, and plans to one day earn a Ph.D. in the field.

“There is a lot of need here in the Valley for rehabilitation counselors and for counseling in general,” Ramírez said. “I feel if someone would have guided me a little bit or helped me with what I was going through, I would have gone a different way at an earlier age. But it is never too late to help a person become functional and get back on their feet again.”

Ramírez will accept her award April 22 at the NCRE Spring 2016 National Conference in Newport Beach, California. UTRGV is a conference platinum sponsor.

UTRGV’s School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling had more than 1,000 students in fall 2015 and 25 full-time faculty members. Last year, the program was ranked No. 15 out of 88 schools in the country in U.S. New and World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” rankings for the 2016 edition.

The NCRE is a professional organization of educators dedicated to quality services for persons with disabilities through education and research. Formed in 1955, NCRE has evolved into the leading professional association for rehabilitation educators in the 21st century and has grown to represent more than 100 institutions of higher education and more than 400 members.

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations