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ELEVAR hires new program director with expanded goals for intellectual disability education

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Article Originally Published by  on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Hedija Spahalic on North Texas Daily

The university has hired Brandi Levingston to be the new program director for ELEVAR, a post-secondary education program for intellectually disabled students.

Levingston, who has a Ph.D. in special education and vocational rehabilitation, is currently the director of programs in rehabilitation at the university’s College of Health and Public Service. She will begin working with ELEVAR on June 1.

She said one of the main things she hopes to highlight as program director is the Peer Ally Program, which was created by Brenda Barrio, ELEVAR’s project lead and an associate professor of special education at the university.

“What made Dr. Levingston stand out was her special education and vocational rehabilitation expertise,” Barrio said. “Not a lot of people do both and this an enormous strength of hers.”

The Peer Ally Program will launch in fall 2021. Through the program, students with a disability will be paired with a peer based on similar career goals or life interests in order to help provide support and motivation. The peer allies will help their partners with a number of things such as showing them around campus, introducing them to new people and helping them integrate into independent university life. The program was designed to make meeting students and adjusting to independent life easier for those with intellectual disabilities. Students can apply now on the ELEVAR website to become peer allies for Fall 2021.

“I just want to be there to support the team and its mission,” Levingston said. “Especially students with intellectual disabilities.”

Jean Keller, a professor in the kinesiology, health promotion and recreation department of the College of Education, said Levingston is the ideal director because her education and experience in special education and rehabilitation aligns well with the Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

“ELEVAR is designed to provide academic enrichment, independence and life skill development, along with career skills leading to gainful employment for its students,” Keller said. “Dr. Levingston has led grant-funded work and her more than 15 years of experience with UNT will enable her to work across the campus to support ELEVAR students and achieve UNT’s mission and vision. The ELEVAR team lead by Dr. Brenda Barrio is elated to have Brandi as ELEVAR’s first director.”

The position listing was posted in December 2020 and was filled in March. Winter Storm Uri in February delayed many of the proceedings and interviews. When interviewing candidates and rifling through applicants for the program director position, one of the most important things that ELEVAR was looking for was someone who could implement and expand their vision Barrio said.

“We want the program to stay at UNT forever,”Barrio said.

Having the capability to connect not only with students, but also their families was another key factor in choosing the right person for this position. Barrio wanted someone who was willing to go above and beyond what was asked of them.

Levingston wants the program to continue to grow in order to bridge the gap between students and the program itself.

“My personal life and professional life merge and my biggest goal is inclusion,” Levingston said.

Featured Image: New program director for ELEVAR Dr. Brandi Levingston’s office can be found in room 218J in Chilton Hall. Image by John Anderson

Source: North Texas Daily


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