Catherine Citta

Catherine Citta (BSEd ‘14, Ph.D. ‘24), a doctoral student in the department of Communication Sciences and Special Education within the #MFECOE, has been selected as the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation’s Public Policy Fellow for 2023. The Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation has invested efforts in research, federal policy, and programs, such as Special Olympics, for the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) community for the past decade. One public policy fellow is selected each year after a rigorous application and interview process. “Fellows work alongside leading federal lawmakers on public policy benefiting the IDD community. The Fellows program was inspired by discussions that Senator Edward M. Kennedy had in the 1980s about the lack of federal policy experts with deep knowledge of Intellectual Disabilities. Former Fellows hold senior leadership roles in the nonprofit and private sectors and in the federal government, including in the White House, the U.S. Senate, the Department of Education, and the Department of Labor.”

Catherine has teaching and leadership experience in early childhood special education, early intervention, and state-level initiatives in recruiting and retaining highly qualified personnel to work with young children with disabilities and their families. Catherine is also a part of the Office of Special Education Program’s Early Childhood Intervention Doctoral Consortium, which brings together scholars from leading R-1 institutions across the nation to focus on research, policy, leadership, and the education of young children with high-intensity support needs. Her research efforts focus on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a collaboration highlighting family participation across agencies and sectors at the state and local levels, and systems thinking for early childhood special education research, policy, and practice. As an individual with disabilities herself, Catherine is committed to the Disability Rights Movement’s saying, “Nothing about us, without us!” In this fellowship, she aims to continue the work to bring caregivers, educators, providers, families, and individuals’ voices to the policy-making process at the federal level.

 Catherine shares, “The opportunities to engage in research and leadership in the state of Georgia and nationally throughout my doctoral program ignited a passion in me to pursue policy with a focus on disability. Seeing the national landscape of early intervention research, policy, and practice in the Early Childhood Intervention Doctoral Consortium has contributed significantly to my desire to assist at the federal level. I am excited to be headed to Washington, DC and to bring the experiences of myself and others to the federal policy-making process. Going through the application and interview process with the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation and being supported by leaders in the field of IDD will be something I am forever grateful for. I am looking forward to this year in the fellowship!”

Catherine has previously been a trainee (‘21-’22) with the Georgia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (GaLEND) program, housed within the Center for Leadership Disability at Georgia State University. Catherine credits GaLEND with being a paradigm-shifting program for herself, both personally and professionally.

 “I was once told that I should not disclose my disabilities or highlight my needs to my future employers because they may not be supportive of me. Going from hearing that in various forms to an environment where disability is not only normal but celebrated, was life-changing. I had worked in the field of disability and special education for years before entering the GaLEND space but honoring the normalcy of the disability human experience in every encounter is one of the key experiences I’ve taken away from GaLEND. I am excited to bring that forth in my interactions on the Hill.”

Catherine also believes that the coursework and opportunities through different #MFECOE programs helped solidify her foundation in special education policy. Catherine received her Graduate Certificate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (‘22), taught special education courses, and took coursework specific to educational policy.

 “Taking Educational Administration and Policy (EDAP) courses in federal policy, the politics of research use in policymaking, and foundational courses in policy analysis assisted in my historical and academic understanding of the public policy-making process. The experiences through both the EDAP program coupled with the courses in my home department of Communications Sciences and Disorders have been imperative to my participation in local, state, and now federal efforts.”

 Catherine will be teaching classes on Universal Design for Learning and planning ahead for accommodations in this year’s #MFECOE Torrance Center’s Summer Institute.

  For the JPKF Fellowship, Catherine will be supporting the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in the area of disability policy.

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