Summer program opens eyes to new opportunities
Mississippi native Amber Brown learns about UW–Madison via an education research project, then returns to campus two years later to pursue a master’s degree
It was the summer of 2013 when Amber Brown first stepped foot on the UW–Madison campus.
Brown — who at the time was between her sophomore and junior year at the University of Mississippi — was taking part in UW–Madison’s Summer Education Research Program (SERP). This eight-week program provides minority undergraduate students interested in pursuing graduate studies in academic fields within the School of Education a valuable opportunity to engage in independent research guided by a faculty mentor.
Brown, who was mentored by UW–Madison Professor Kimber Wilkerson of the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, conducted a descriptive analysis of alternative schools and presented a poster titled, “Who Are Those Kids? What are the Lines between an Adequate Education and an Equal Education?”
“Dr. Wilkerson opened a door to a new research world and I really enjoyed my time here with her,” says Brown, a native of Crystal Springs, Miss. “She was so passionate about research and special education, and she really inspired me. When I left here that summer, in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘Wow, it would be incredible to come back to this great community some day and be a part of it.’ ”
That dream became a reality this past fall, when Brown returned to campus to pursue a master’s degree in rehabilitation psychology with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.
Brown’s interests today center around learning more about how to help young people with intellectual disabilities better transition through high school or college, and into work. In addition to her master’s level coursework, Brown is currently doing practicum work with Edgewood College’s Cutting Edge Program, which provides an individualized approach to education and inclusion in college for students with intellectual developmental disabilities.
In her role at Edgewood, Brown does a range of tasks to help individuals who have either traditionally not been able to meet the standard admissions criteria for college, or require additional supports in order to be successful in high education.
“This work has given me a new look on how to work with people with disabilities and how to draw out my own passions and find ways to integrate that into the system we already have,” says Brown.
Brown is on track to graduate in December 2016, and then plans to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC).
When asked what she likes most about her rehabilitation psychology master’s degree program, Brown says she appreciates the person-centered approach.
“People here at UW–Madison really get to know you and learn about what direction you want to go in your life,” says Brown, whose faculty advisor is Assistant Professor Susan Smedema. “The people with the department heard how I wanted to work with children and special education topics, so they’ve really molded my rehabilitation psychology master’s program around my interests.”
Adds Brown: “I now have a strong background in psychology, cognitive abilities and learning. I wanted to use an applied psychology approach to help with issues related to special education, learning disabilities and disabilities in general. This is why I want to be a counselor and later a professor, to bridge the gap in cognitive abilities, psychosocial development and learning.”