Tuesday, November 26, 2019
  Faculty Focus, Community

By Victoria Brito

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Faculty in the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration have been awarded a $1.2 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education to fund a collaborative initiative to help grow leaders in special education administration.

Project PLEASE – Program for Leaders to Educate and Advocate for Special Education – is designed as a cross-department collaboration between the College of Education and P-16 Integration’s Department of Human Development and School Services, and the Department of Organization and School Leadership.

Dr. Hsuying Ward, associate professor of Human Development and School Services, serves as principal investigator on this grant. Other College of Education faculty members involved in the grant-writing process were:

  • Dr. Federico Guerra, co-PI, assistant professor of Organization and School Leadership.
  • Dr. Velma Menchaca, co-PI, professor of Organization and School Leadership.
  • Dr. Steve Chamberlain, evaluator, professor of Human Development and School Services.
  • Dr. Paul Sale, co-author, professor of Human Development and School Services.
  • Dr. Javier Cavazos, co-author, associate professor of Counseling.
  • Dr. Patricia McHatton, co-author, UTRGV executive vice president for Academic Affairs, Student Success and P-16 Integration.

“Project PLEASE is a personnel training grant that will give scholarships and stipends to 14 vetted candidates to complete their doctorate in education in special education administration,” Ward said.

This program will collaborate with nine regional school districts: Edinburg, Donna, McAllen, La Joya, PSJA, Weslaco, Harlingen, Mission and Brownsville.

The districts will make recommendations on candidates, and the applicant then applies through the UTRGV Graduate College and goes through the admission process.

Participants in Project PLEASE will complete 18 to 20 hours of special education and administration training, and will earn a doctorate in education leadership with a specialization in special education.

“The grant is to help improve special education practices in the Rio Grande Valley, to help improve special education students’ outcomes, and to affect special education practices,” Ward said.

Additionally, every participant’s dissertation will be based on special education. Curriculum in the program will contain practical experiences, such as evaluations of a school district’s special education program; internships in a disability rights organization; and participation in Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meetings to determine student eligibility for special education.

Ward said knowing a special education student’s needs and the parent communication aspect are important components of Project PLEASE.

“In this program, we will affect special education practice,” she said. “We want to help train these administrators so they can avoid potential conflicts with parents. We help provide the knowledge they need of current special education practices. If we train our doctoral students well, we will do a lot of good.”

Dr. Alma Rodriguez, dean of the College of Education and P-16 Integration said Project PLEASE is an exciting new addition to the doctoral programs in UTRGV’s College of Education and P-16 Integration.

“Through this project, our faculty will be preparing leaders with the necessary knowledge and skills to address the educational needs of special education students,” Rodriguez said. “These proficiencies are essential to afford the students with appropriate and equitable educational opportunities in special education.” 

The grant cycle for Project PLEASE started Nov. 1 and will run until Dec. 31, 2024. The cohort will be selected in February 2020; the program will start the first summer semester 2020.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.