Katherine C. Aquino, a doctoral candidate in the College of Education and Human Services' higher education leadership, management and policy program, received a $10,000 grant through Policy Research Inc. to study how to better improve the disability determination process for disability insurance programs funded through the Social Security Administration.
The one-year stipend, made possible through Policy Research Inc.'s Disability Determination Process Small Grant Program, is awarded to a limited number of graduate-level students to conduct supervised independent research on improving the disability determination process for the Social Security Administration's two disability programs - Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance.
"I have always been interested in the socio-academic experiences of students with disabilities," said Aquino. "Higher education literature often explores topics of student diversity and inclusion but, ironically, frequently leaves students with disabilities out of this idea of inclusion. I think that needs to change."
Aquino will work towards that change by exploring the characteristics of post-secondary students who are recipients of the Social Security Administration's disability programs as well as the traits of institutions enrolling students with disabilities. "If we can investigate trends related to this student population, perhaps there can be an increased opportunity for advocacy and initiatives for students with disabilities in the future," she said. "I am passionate about better exploring their post-secondary journey and hope to dedicate my career to researching their experiences."
She credits the higher education leadership, management and policy program's faculty, especially her mentor for this project and her dissertation adviser Associate Professor Eunyoung Kim, for the opportunity. "During my first semester in the program I had Dr. Kim for a class and instantaneously had a great relationship with her," she said. "When Dr. Kim was made aware of this grant opportunity, she encouraged and challenged me to apply."
"I am very delighted to see Katherine win this very competitive research grant and I am also very excited to work with her as a faculty mentor to help her successfully complete her research project," said Professor Kim. "I believe that her research will make an important contribution to the area of college opportunities and college success by raising the visibility of students with disability, who have been overlooked and 'invisible.' "
"One of the best parts about being a part of the College of Education and Human Services is the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with faculty on research projects" said Aquino. "I have attended conferences, submitted to publications and worked on projects inside and outside of the classroom with many department faculty, including Martin Finkelstein, Eunyoung Kim and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj."
As part of the grant, Aquino will participate in teleconferences with other grant recipients, mentors, Policy Research Inc. and the Social Security Administration and submit a 10 to 15 page research project that will improve the efficiency and reduce the complexity of the disability determination process.
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