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University of Pittsburgh Instruction and Learning Receives $1.1 Million Grant for Expanded Vision Studies Education

Tessa McCarthy and Doug Kostewicz, faculty members in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education department of Instruction and Learning, will be co-principal investigators on Project Certifying Orientation and Mobility/Behavior Specialists (COMBS), a professional training grant funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for $1.1 million over the next five years.

The purpose of Project COMBS is to provide tuition assistance for master’s level students who wish to pursue degrees in either vision studies or applied behavior analysis and work with blind or visually-impaired students upon graduation. The project focuses on giving certified teachers of visually-impaired students the opportunity to become highly-qualified, highly-collaborative professionals who also are certified as orientation, mobility, and behavior specialists.

Two programs in the School of Education are involved in Project COMBS

Vision Studies (orientation and mobility): three-year master's program

Applied Behavior Analysis three-year master's program

A total of 15 scholars studying vision studies and focusing on blindness and visual impairments will have the opportunity to add certification as an orientation and mobility specialist and certification as a behavior specialist to their prerequisite certification as a teacher of students with visual impairments.

A total of nine scholars focusing on applied behavior analysis will have the opportunity to gain additional expertise in working with students who are blind or visually impaired in order to implement more accessible interventions and assist with identification and referrals of students who are blind and visually impaired.

All scholars will graduate with a Master of Education degree (MEd).

With the two programs sharing coursework, it will be possible for current teachers of students with visual impairments to obtain a master’s degree and certification in both orientation and mobility through vision studies and applied behavior analysis in a total of three years.

The 15 scholars focusing on blindness and visual impairments will be eligible to sit for certification in orientation and mobility which is granted by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) and certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). The nine scholars who will be focusing on applied behavior analysis will be eligible for certification as a BCBA.

Interested students should contact Dr. Tessa McCarthy, an assistant professor in Instruction and Learning, at

Salus University Receives $1.25 Million OSEP Grant

Salus University’s Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) was recently awarded a $1.25 million grant from OSEP to be distributed over the next five years. The grant supports Project LEGIT, which stands for Learning Experiences Grounded in Interprofessional Training. The project will immerse students in the O&M and TVI programs at Salus  in an interprofessional experience both in didactic and direct service courses and will emphasize working with children with high intensity needs, particularly those with Cortical Visual Impairments (CVI).

The interdisciplinary components of LEGIT include:

1. interprofessional coursework with students in the OT and SLP programs;

2. shared fieldwork/clinical experiences with students in the OT and SLP programs;

3. direct learning from families of children with disabilities via Families as Faculty Program;

4. real-world learning experiences

Project LEGIT will be monitored through on-going quantitative and qualitative assessment with input from the Interprofessional Steering Committee, students and content experts. Graduates will be followed for 3-5 years to monitor the impact of the project on services to children with visual impairments.