National Coordinating Center Team Members

Meet the Think College National Coordinating Center (NCC) Team!

The NCC is housed at the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston, a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Our staff, consultants, and partners have years of experience in research, technical assistance, and training, as well as program planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Principal Investigators

Debra Hart

Debra Hart, MS

Principal Investigator

Debra has over 25 years of experience working with youth and adults with disabilities, families, faculty, and professionals that support youth in accessing inclusive secondary and postsecondary education, as well as competitive employment. In addition to her role as co-Principal Investigator for the NCC, Ms.Hart oversees multiple other projects at the ICI related to transition and college access for students with intellectual disability.

Meg Grigal

Meg Grigal, PhD

Principal Investigator

Meg is a national expert on postsecondary education and transition for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She works with colleges, schools, families, and students to develop, expand, and improve inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disability.  In addition to her role as Principal Investigator for the NCC, Dr. Grigal oversees multiple other projects at the ICI related to transition and college access for students with intellectual disability.


Project Director

Cate Weir

Cate Weir, MEd

Project Director

Cate has spent her career working towards the inclusion and full participation of individuals with intellectual disabilities. She has spent over twenty years working to assure that students with intellectual disability have the opportunity to attend college in states throughout the US. 


Research and Evaluation Team


Clare Papay, PhD

Senior Research Associate

Clare conducts research and provides technical assistance on a range of topics in inclusive higher education. Prior to joining Think College, she was assistant professor and director of inclusive special education programs at Arcadia University where co-founded and directed a two-year certificate program for students with ID.

Pam McFarland

Pam McFarland

Database Manager

 Pam manages a small data entry staff, and works closely with several projects at the ICI, sharing her experience with multiple database applications and online data collection tools.

Daria Domin

Daria Domin, MSW

Research Associate

Daria manages and performs quantitative and qualitative data analysis and develops publications for a number of projects, Her work for teh NCC involves supporting system development and publication production as well as providing training and technical assistance to TPSID sites.


Knowledge Translation and Dissemination Team

Rebecca Lazo

Rebecca Lazo

Knowledge Translation Specialist

Rebecca has over 20 years of experience in academic publishing, specializing in the fields of inclusive education and access and rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  In her role with the NCC, she coordinates the dissemination of information online, via publications, and at training events.

Brenda Brooks

Brenda Atkins

Program Assistant

Brenda provides support for the NCC's dissemination activiites as well as general administrative support to the NCC team.


Technical Assistance and Training Team

Kathleen Becht

Kathleen Becht, Ph.D.

Technical Assistance Coordinator

Dr. Becht has lived, taught, and advocated in the field of Exceptional Education for over 35 years with a passion for the self-determination of students with disabilities. Before joining the National Coordinating Center staff, Kathy was the director of Florida’s Consortium on Inclusive Higher Education (FCIHE) at the University of Central Florida, where she provided technical assistance and professional development to institutions of higher education, community agencies, K-12 schools, and families throughout Florida. Her research focus lies in literacy at the secondary and postsecondary levels and inclusive postsecondary education for individuals with cognitive disability.

Maria Paiewonsky

Maria Paiewonsky, EdD

College-Based Transition Specialist

Maria uses inclusive research methods with students, transition staff, and college personnel to evaluate postsecondary education initiatives and to develop training and technical assistance materials.  Maria’s work includes online course development and teaching, training and technical assistance.  In addition to her work with the NCC, Maria directs transition-related projects at the ICI.

Ty Hanson

Ty Hanson, MEd

Program Coordinator

 Ty supports students, families, and professionals as they navigate the transition from high school to college. She believes in the importance of using a student-centered and collaborative approach to transition planning while reinforcing the expectation that all students, including those with disabilities, have the right to achieve their college dreams. 


Lori Cooney, MEd

Universal Design Specialist

Lori has extensive experience in designing and delivering professional development for faculty and staff on instructional resources, universal design techniques, lesson plans, and assessment strategies that meet the learning styles of all students. 

Russ Thelin

Russell Thelin, MS, LVRC CRC

Senior Policy Fellow

Russ provides consultation to college programs related to partnering effectively with vocational rehabilitation agencies. Russ has over 25 years direct service/administrative experience in leading and delivering rehabilitation services. 


Technical Assistance Consultants

Kelley Kelly

Kelly Kelley

Assistant Professor, Western Carolina University

Kelly directs a successful program for students with ID at Western Carolina University and is a member of the special education faculty there. In her role with the NCC, Kelly provides technical assistance related to program development and operations.

Margo Izzo

Margo Izzo, PhD

Program Director, The Ohio State University Nisonger Center

As the Director of Ohio’s Statewide Consortia (OSC), Dr. Izzo assists postsecondary programs across Ohio to enhance their programs for students with IDD. In her role with the NCC, she consults on transition to college and careers for people with intellectual disabilities. 

Brian Freedman

Brian Freedman, Ph.D

Unit Director, University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies

Dr. Freedman leads postsecondary transition programs at the UD Center for Disabilities Studies and serves as Co-Director of Delaware’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program and is an assistant professor in the School of Education. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has published and presented widely on transition-related topics including inclusive higher education.

Julie Lackey

Julie Lackey

Executive Director, LeadLearnLive

Ms. Lackey is the Founder and Executive Director of LeadLearnLive and the parent of a student with intellectual/developmental disabilities. LeadLearnLive is a non-profit organization with the mission of establishing inclusive postsecondary education programs in Oklahoma for students with IDD.


External Project Evaluation

Teresa Grossi

Teresa Grossi, PhD

External Evaluator

Teresa has extensive background in secondary transition and employment for individuals with disabilities and evaluates the activities of the NCC in her role as external evaluator.


Think College National Coordinating Center Partners

Denise Rozell

Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Denise Rozell, Senior Policy Strategist

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) is a network of interdisciplinary centers advancing policy and practice for and with individuals with developmental and other disabilities, their families, and communities. Denise Rozell is the Policy Strategist at AUCD, working primarily on post-secondary education, employment and independent living and is the lead staff person for the NCC/AUCD partnership. Denise has twenty-five years of experience in disability policy at the federal and state level. In her role with the NCC, Denise provides technical assistance and support around public policy development in the area of postsecondary education for students with ID.

Stephan Smith

Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)

Stephan Smith, Executive Director

AHEAD is the leading professional membership association for individuals committed to equity for persons with disabilities in higher education. Stephan Smith, the Executive Director of AHEAD, is the primary contact for the AHEAD/NCC parternship.  In addition to serving as the chief staff officer at AHEAD, Stephan has taken on increasingly complex roles in local, state, and national arenas advocating for the total and equitable inclusion of people with disabilities in higher education and the workplace.  He also serves on numerous national and international advisory boards and executive councils related to people with disabilities, education, employment, transition, social justice, and civil equity.