Two GSE students from Visually Impaired Learner program receive fellowships

Two GSE students were among 15 selected nationally for a fellowship at the American Foundation for the Blind Leadership Institute. Phyllis Foster and Rian Hansen will travel to Chicago on April 18th to attend the event. Both are students in the Graduate School of Education’s Visually Impaired Learner (VIL) program, working toward licensure in Special Education with a specialization in Visual Impairment.

The Portland State VIL program is one of only four programs in the nation to offer interstate online programming to provide maximum access for students in this critical need area. PSU students attend from many different states across the continental United States, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, where there is a huge shortage of teachers in this field.

Phillis FosterPhillis Foster is a current PSU student from Eagle River, Alaska. As with all VIL students, she attends classes online, with the exception of one summer intensive which provides a rare opportunity to meet with other students in person. Attending the conference in Chicago will also provide connections to other professionals in the field.

“I feel very privileged to be invited to attend this conference, because being a teacher of the visually impaired is such a specialized field,” said Phillis. “Being able to connect with many of the leaders in the field, absorb their experiences, share my questions, and to touch new technology in one place is powerful!  I can hardly wait to absorb the warmth and knowledge of these professionals after a long Alaskan winter!”

Rian HansenRian Hansen lives in Kent, Washington. He is a returning veteran who has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. In 2010, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and subsequent surgery to remove it resulted in blindness. Rian trained in adaptive technology and braille at the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind. Already a teacher, he became interested in the Portland State VIL program as a way to use his classroom teaching skills toward a new career. “As a veteran, I have been faced with much worse things than blindness,” he said.” Of course my new challenges were nothing to snicker at, but I looked forward to someday being a leader wherever I’m needed.”

The GSE has been fortunate to have a fellowship student selected every year for the past 11 years, but this is the first time two PSU students were selected. “I believe this is a feather in the cap of not only PSU, but more so of the students who make such a good impression upon the selection committee,” said Professor Jim Bickford, director of the program.

The VIL program in the Department of Special Education at Portland State is one of only 24 preparation programs across the country for teachers of the visually impaired. As one of four available online programs, it has had students from 23 different states who successfully attained licenses and masters of science degrees while remaining in their home communities. Upon completion, these PSU students reside throughout the US and fill a critical shortage of teachers for students with visual impairments and blindness. 

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