October 19, 2006

U.S. agency honors Rehabilitation Institute

by Kathryn Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration honored the Rehabilitation Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale for excellence in education and training on Tuesday, Oct. 17, in Washington, D.C.

A team of university professors, rehabilitation practitioners and administrators, and federal officials reviewed the nominations for the agency's annual Commissioner's Award, selecting the winner based on innovation, collaboration, effectiveness and distribution of curriculum materials.

Interim Director John J. Benshoff accepted the award on behalf of the institute during a joint conference with the National Council on Rehabilitation Education and the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.

"We are the oldest and probably the largest and most diverse rehabilitation education program in the country, and the award recognizes our very strong and continuing commitment to be the premier rehabilitation program in the country," he said.

"This award is especially gratifying as it represents recognition and acknowledgement of our work from our peers."

The Rehabilitation Institute, part of the College of Education and Human Services, has a broad mission, Benshoff noted. It offers two undergraduate degrees, four master's degrees and a doctorate.

"You'll find our graduates all over the country and all over the world," he said.

"We have a particularly strong record in training minority students at the doctoral level. I'd say 80 percent of the minority academics in our field earned their doctorates here. It's a problem when we try to recruit because we do not hire our own, but it's a good problem to have."

The institute also runs a number of service programs, treating such varied disorders as substance abuse, gambling addictions and autism. Many of these programs offer students the chance to learn and practice new skills in a real-world environment, and they encourage crossover as well.

"Faculty, staff and students on one project are often involved in others," Benshoff said.

In addition, the institute maintains an impressive research and professional service record. Faculty research activities include investigating treatment approaches for autism, methamphetamine addiction, traumatic brain injuries and gambling disorders. Associate professors Shane Koch and Ruth Anne Rehfeldt and Professor Theodore F. Riggar serve as editors of national research journals, and Koch and Associate Professor Carl R. Flowers will serve as presidents of national rehabilitation associations in the coming year.

"We have a presence, not just on this campus but in the rehabilitation world," Benshoff said.

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.