Fulbright Connecting!

24 January 2013

This month features two Fulbrighters for our Alumni in Action section. Deborah Merchant is a 2012 2013 US Fulbright Scholar (Keene State College, Keene, NH, Department of Education) hosted by Lefkothea Kartasidou at University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki (Dpet of Education and Social Policy)

Ms. Merchant and Ms. Kartasiadou can you tell us a few things about yourselves? What is your work on?

Merchant: I am an associate professor of special education at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. I also coordinate the Masters program in Special Education. My main area of scholarship has focused on the transition of individuals with disabilities from secondary to post secondary settings with a particular focus on self-determination and self-advocacy strategies.

Kartasidou: I am assistant professor of special education at the Department of Educational and Social Policy, University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki.

Ms. Merchant you are a 2012/13 Fulbright scholar hosted by Ms. Kartasidou at the University of Macedonia. Can you both briefly describe the program?

Merchant: While at the University of Macedonia I had the opportunity to visit several school that provided supports and services for individuals with significant disabilities. I also taught classes during the month of November to students majoring in special education who are enrolled in the Master's program. The focus of my lectures was on transition as well as the special education process, delivery of services and transition planning in the US. I learned about the special education systems from both Ms. Kartasidou and the Masters students and discussed the similarities and differences between special education in the US and Greece. Additionally, Ms. Kartasidou and I developed and disseminated a survey for special educators in the schools in Greece who worked with children with intellectual disabilities and other significant disabilities. We invited the teachers who participated in the survey to a workshop in December to discuss current transition practices and service delivery. The workshop was very well attended.

Kartasidou: The last 4 years I am working on issues regarding self determination of students with disabilities which includes transition and independent living. I have read a lot of literature from U.S. and through Fulbright Scholarship I thought it would be a good idea to have a Professor from U.S. who works on this subject area. With Ms Merchant we had the chance to come in touch through email and skype before her arrival and from the beginning we found that we have a common way of thinking regarding special education. After her arrival it was possible to experience these commonalities also in practice. I have planned during October some visits to secondary schools for students with disabilities in order to help Ms Merchant have a view about the school praxis and the daily difficulties educators and students have to face. In the mean time we had the chance to organize a survey and a working meeting with those schools. In November Ms Merchant has given lectures to our master students. All those steps, school visits, survey, working meeting and lectures were focusing on transition.

Merchant: As Ms. Kartasidou mentioned our communication started well before my arrival in Greece. We quickly realized that we had much in common in our philosophy about special education. Our conversations once I arrived in Greece continued to be rich, thoughtful, and exciting in terms of ideas for the improvement of special education services as they related to transition in Greece.

Were it not for this Fulbright experience, our paths probably would never have crossed.

What is next for both of you? Kartasidou: We still have to analyze the data from the survey. Master students will have to write an essay regarding transition based on the data analysis they will make. We are hoping to publish this survey and perhaps plan another survey in the future. Ms Merchant has also invited me in U.S. and I really hope that I can plan that sometime in the future.

I really want to say as last and more personal. It was an honor having the chance to meet Deborah and her husband. It is good to know that somewhere in the world people from other culture share the same dreams, hopes and ideas regarding life and human beings.

Merchant: I feel that we have just begun our work together and it is my hope that Ms. Kartasidou will be able to accept my invitation to come to the US. Meanwhile, we have data to analyze from the survey and we hope to publish our findings. I am also hopeful that my husband and I will return to Greece at some point in time. I would love to explore and learn about services for students who have less severe disabilities (e.g. Learning disabilities, ADHD) and perhaps share the curriculum that I have written that focuses on transition for students with disabilities who are transitioning to postsecondary educational settings with teachers in Greece.

I also would like to express my gratitude to Lefkothea Kartasidou for her support while my husband and I were in Greece. She went above and beyond in making sure we were comfortable and that we had an opportunity to experience the culture and warmth of the people. 

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