June 29, 2007

Grant will assist rehabilitation services students

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A $75,000 federal grant will help undergraduate students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale who plan to work in the fast-growing field of rehabilitation services pay for some of their coursework.

"Our students are very marketable with a bachelor's degree," said Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, an associate professor who coordinates the SIUC Rehabilitation Institute's undergraduate program.

"In fact, there's a statewide — and national — shortage of bachelor's-level workers that we wanted to address. This grant will help us do that."

The grant, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, will provide $75,000 each year for an anticipated five years. Junior and senior students may apply for support for up to nine credit hours (about three courses) annually. That should assist roughly 33 students altogether, Rehfeldt estimates.

"We decided we could support a larger number of students if we spread out the grant in smaller portions — and this is still enough to make a difference," Rehfeldt said.

"We think our students will be happy to have the help."

Students with jobs frequently take no more than nine hours, Rehfeldt said, and the program attracts a lot of these.

"While the grants won't be restricted to them, as a group they would certainly benefit, and we like the idea of supporting these students so they can go to school while continuing to be part of the workforce," she said.

The program will not limit support to class hours.

"Some of the funds could be used to support student travel to regional and even national conferences to further enhance their education," Rehfeldt said.

"That would give them a chance to hear what others are doing and maybe even present their own research."

While the funds are grants, not loans, there is a payback provision for those who do not enter the field after graduating.

"Students who get these awards need to be pretty confident that they will be working in a rehabilitation setting once they get their degree," Rehfeldt said.

They'll have a lot of choices as to where to go. Students with an undergraduate degree in rehabilitation services find jobs in community rehabilitation, alcohol and substance abuse programs, mental health and retardation offices, and independent and assisted living facilities, to name just a few.

"Ours is a generalist's program," Rehfeldt said. "Students are educated in a variety of populations of disabilities, so they are well prepared to work in any number of settings when they graduate. That breadth makes our major unique in the state.

"We also offer optional, concentrated training in behavior analysis and an optional certificate program in substance abuse, and we are working with the University Honors Program on developing an honors track. These features of our major distinguish us from other undergraduate rehabilitation programs across the nation."

Because of its comprehensive nature, the curriculum serves as good preparation for students who want further training, either elsewhere or at SIUC. The Rehabilitation Institute's graduate training has a national reputation. This year, only three programs outranked it in U.S. News and World Report's annual assessment guide.

"We regard this (grant) as a great recruitment tool," Rehfeldt said.

For more information about the grant or the undergraduate program in rehabilitation services, e-mail Rehfeldt at rehfeldt@siu.edu or call her at 618/536-7704. To learn more about the Rehabilitation Institute, visit it on the Web at www.siu.edu/~rehab.