$1.2 million training grant for special education and school psychology graduate programs

Project PASS-IT (Promoting Academic Success of Students with high-intensity needs through Interdisciplinary Training) received a grant from the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education.

This new program provides specialized training for students of the Special Education master’s program and the School Psychology doctoral program. Students of these programs can collaborate to have better experience in leadership, consultation and cooperation. Shawna Petersen-Brown is the School Psychology doctoral program director.

“The idea was that special educators and school psychologists will work together to support students with high-intensity needs, which includes students with educational disabilities. So both special educators and school psychologists will be trained in an interdisciplinary way to collaborate and help students learn better in the future,” said Petersen-Brown.

Project PASS-IT was created by Dana Wagner along with Shawna Petersen-Brown and Alexandra Hilt-Panahon. The three share similar educational backgrounds and goals in promoting collaboration between school psychologists and special educators to achieve better experiences.

“I worked in research for six years collaborating with school psychology and special education researchers,” said Hilt-Panahon. “And then when I came here at MSU I joined the special education department, so I had to experience both areas and see the value of the collaboration that we are trying to promote through the training.” 

According to Wagner, the leaders of Project PASS-IT faced difficulties in composing a new training program.

“Our programs are very different. Our school psychology program is a doctoral program. They are full-time students and most of them are not working or working part-time during the day. Whereas, in the special education department our graduate programs are all online. Most of our students are working professionals. So figuring out how to bring those two groups together was probably the biggest challenge for us,” said Wagner. 

Petersen-Brown believes that the collaboration of two different programs will benefit Project PASS-IT.

“We can turn that into a strength. Special education scholars have that experience in schools as teachers which is something that for the most part our school psychology scholars don’t have. And so they will learn a lot not just from the collaborative training but learning from educators working in all kinds of school settings. And I hope that on the other side of that coin, special education scholars will learn from school psychologists, who have a lot of foundational knowledge,” said Petersen-Brown.

During the five-year training program, 36 graduate students from special education and school psychology programs will receive grant money to cover 15 credits and supplies. According to leadership team, at least 75% of the grant money for the training program is to be distributed among students.

“We are impacting those 36 individuals directly but then they will have an impact on so many students, like in K-12, as well as their colleagues in the schools where they can share the training that they get with us to work more collaboratively with individuals in their district,” Hilt-Panahon said.

Header photo: Shawna Petersen-Brown (left), Dana Wagner and Alexandra Hilt-Panahon are a part of Project PASS-IT which recently received a grant of $1.2 million that will help psychology and special education students. (Dominic Bothe/The Reporter)

Write to Amalia Sharaf at

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