This fall, the Springfield College Health Science and Rehabilitation Studies Department received a near million-dollar grant that will provide tuition for graduate students in the rehabilitation counseling program.
The grant, which is provided by the federal government, was written by Professor of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies Michael Accordino. Accordino explained that the United States Department of Education has a sub-department called the Office of Special Education and Rehab Services, which puts out a grant application.
“What it does,” he said, speaking of the grant itself, “is it pays tuition for students who want to study rehab counseling and help people with disabilities get back to work.”
“I was on sabbatical January to May,” Accordino continued, “and I believe my whole January was spent writing [the grant]. We submitted it [around] February 5, and we didn’t hear back until September 25. We thought we’d hear back by June or July, but we didn’t have time to give out these [scholarships] out. We couldn’t give them to anyone because the fall semester had already started, so we’re going to work quickly to get people for the spring and then the summer.”
The money given by the grant covers five years, and provides tuition for about 12 students in the fall and spring, and about 10 in the summer. The program includes just over 40 students in total, not including those who receive scholarship money.
The grant, Accordino says, covers many different aspects, including how the money will be spent, what type of education the program will provide, how student performances will be evaluated, and what will be done if students need help. The process also includes obtaining letters of recommendation from public officials such as Senator Elizabeth Warren and State Representative Richard Neal, as well as from vocational rehabilitation agencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Accordino said that the college receives the grant regularly, though it is not a guarantee. The last time Springfield received the grant was in 2008.
“It definitely beefed up our program,” Accordino said. “It brought in a lot of people from underrepresented populations who would never have come here because of the finances. I’m hoping we can get even more this time.”
Students of color and students with disabilities are two of the underrepresented populations for which the grant can provide more opportunities, Accordino said. He said that some students included in the program suffer from mental illness, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and a number of disabilities that can make finding and obtaining work difficult. The grant will help to relieve students of the burden of tuition.
As part of the rehabilitation counseling graduate program, students will attend regular counseling courses that count toward their degrees, as well as participate in internships set up by the college. Those on scholarship are required, once they graduate, to work for two years for every one year of tuition they receive at a vocational rehabilitation agency in the New England area.
Accordino likened the scholarships pay-back system to that of the organization Doctors Without Borders, which pays tuition for its scholars, then requires them to work in a third-world country for a certain number of years.
Several Springfield College faculty members were part of the grant-writing process, Accordino said, including Linda Marston. Marston is the director of the college’s office of Grants and Sponsored Research, and has worked at the college for nearly 20 years.
“What I try to do, to help ensure that our faculty get funded,” Marston said of her role, “is to let them focus on all the content of the proposed program, while I become the master of all the instructions, required forms, and other requirements that have to be met in the e-application.”
Marston said that grant applications must be approved by several of the school’s offices, including the Vice President’s and President’s offices. She said that she works with the Project Director on determining a budget that will be most beneficial to all members of the college.
Even though Springfield has received many Rehabilitation Services Administration grants in the past, Marsten said that each application must be updated with each new submission.
“Having files from previously-successful applications is always helpful,” Marston said, “but the instructions and guidelines change every time, so everything must be reviewed, edited, and re-written according to current guidelines.”
This is not a simple process, and though he admits that writing the forty-page grant was a lot of work, Accordino says it is a step toward accomplishing one of the program’s most prominent goals: increasing diversity.
“We’re lucky to get it,” he said. “It’s a lot of work managing it, but it helps our students.”