Early Career Scholars Competencies

As a result of participation in the I-MTSS Early Career Scholars program, scholars will be able to…

Core Features

a. Define core features of I-MTSS, based on the I-MTSS definition
b. Develop skills to implement relevant core features of I-MTSS, by implementation phase, in research
c. Describe the theory of change (logic model) for I-MTSS

Research Methods

a. Ask important research questions related to I-MTSS based on the literature
b. Select, operationalize, & measure—in a reliable and valid manner—a range of constructs relevant to I-MTSS
c. Select & implement appropriate research methodology to investigate research questions related to I-MTSS
d. Analyze data in a nuanced way (consider context, hierarchical data structures, etc.) given I-MTSS context
e. Conduct research in typical educational settings in an ethical manner (consistent with IRB/common rule)


a. Describe policy & organizational (e.g., district, school) features that impact I-MTSS implementation
b. Understand roles, functions, expertise, & needs of educators, families, & other stakeholders related to I-MTSS
c. Engage in respectful collaboration with research sites/partners (leave them better than you found them)
d. Intentionally build local capacity to bridge the research-to-practice gap related to implementing I-MTSS framework & promote sustainability


a. Describe implications of dissemination, translation, implementation, & improvement sciences for I-MTSS research
b. Develop effective communication & visual display skills to share lessons learned
c. Effectively communicate I-MTSS research findings by
    i. identifying a range of audiences,
    ii. considering innovative dissemination strategies,
    iii. matching strategies to audiences
    iv. actively disseminating (e.g., submitting a proposal, presenting at a conference/event, writing a brief or article)

Early Career Scholars: Cohort 3

Allison Bernard

Allison M. Bernard, is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. She earned both a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Social Studies Education and a Master’s in Education in Curriculum & Instruction: Special Education Diagnostics, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She holds additional licensure as a Reading Specialist. She was a middle school general education and high school special education teacher for eight years in Louisiana, prior to beginning her studies at KU. Her research interests include Comprehensive, Integrated, Three-tiered (Ci3T) models of prevention, low- and high-intensity strategies for students with internalizing behavior patterns, collaborative practices and partnerships, and evidence-based practices to support all students with varying academic, behavioral, and social and emotional well-being strengths and challenges.  

Nargiza Buranovais

Nargiza Buranovais a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri. She has 6 years of teaching experience in both general and special education classrooms. Mrs.Buranova has worked as a research assistant on the National Science Foundation grant focused on the development and assessment of social skills instruction in the virtual learning environment for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and on Measuring the Implementation of Multi_Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS): Integrated MTSS Fidelity Rubric (IMFR) project funded by Institute of Education Sciences. Her research interests include students with autism, social skills, and multi-tiered systems of support at school.

chloe melton

Chloe Melton is currently pursuing her PhD in Special Education at the University of Connecticut. After graduating from Western Washington University with a degree in psychology, Chloe joined AmeriCorps and worked as a reading tutor working with kindergarten students. Following AmeriCorps, she obtained a M.Ed. in Special Education with a focus on early childhood education and applied behavior analysis from the University of Washington. Chloe has worked for seven years in public schools as an elementary resource room teacher supporting students with mild to moderate disabilities. During her time as a resource room teacher, Chloe served on various school and district-wide teams including MTSS and curriculum adoption committees for social-emotional curricula and reading interventions. She also developed training for general education staff para educators on reading, math, and behavioral interventions. Additionally, Chloe has served as a mentor teacher for undergraduate students pursuing teaching degrees in special education. Chloe’s research interests include effective interventions for students with comorbid learning disabilities and behavioral disorders as well as preparing new teachers to support students with intensive learning and behavioral needs.



Tobey Duble Moore is currently pursuing her PhD in Educational Psychology (Special Education) at the University of Connecticut with a focus on behavior. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard University, and her Master’s degree in Intellectual Disabilities and Autism from Teachers College at Columbia University. During her time at Columbia, she worked in various school settings with students in inclusion and substantially separate settings. She then completed the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Certification Program at Florida Institute of Technology. Tobey first worked as an ABA therapist and then as a Supervising Lead Teacher at the Manhattan Childrens Center, an ABA-based private school for students in Manhattan, N.Y. She then joined May Institute in September of 2017, working as a contracted Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in Boston Public Schools and in various other districts in the Boston area. As a consultant, she worked with students at the Tier 3 level, supervising direct services and consulting to school teams with individual behavior support. She also consulted at the school and district level, providing consultation on classroom management and best practices in behavior support, as well as conducting program evaluations and assessments. Tobey is also involved in the May Institute’s PBIS team supporting districts with implementation of School-wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports and providing technical assistance and training across all three Tiers.



Shannon has over 25 years of experience as an SLP, serving individuals with autism of all ages across educational, clinical, and community settings. From practitioner to clinic director, consultant, speaker, elected member of the Missouri Speech-Language Hearing Association Executive Board, and business owner of Autism Outfitters, LLC, her varied career has highlighted gaps and systems to improve for the autistic community. Now as a full-time Ph.D. student, teaching and research assistant in the Special Education – Autism program she is interested in researching the impact and outcomes of peer perceptions, inclusive practices, universal design for learning, and integration of social-behavioral supports with academic and vocational needs of students and young adults with autism spectrum disorder. After years of implementing social skill and competency interventions, her focus has shifted to building communities of support that will seek to understand and embrace social and behavioral neurodiversity.


 Ashley Plumb is a doctoral student studying special education in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut. Her primary research interests include implementing positive behavior support interventions (PBIS) across tiers, supporting students who demonstrate persistent and pervasive contextually inappropriate challenging behaviors, and coaching and training teachers to implement equitable evidence-based practices. Ashley previously taught special education in self-contained and inclusive early childhood settings in Nashville, TN and in K-3 self-contained and inclusive settings in Connecticut. She has a B.S. in Elementary Education from Keene State College and a M.Ed. in Early Childhood Special Education from Vanderbilt University.


Elise Sarasin

Elise Sarasin is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas with research interests in Comprehensive Integrated Three-tiered (Ci3T) models of prevention, systematic screening, and integration of evidence-based practices within and across all tiers. Specifically, she is interested in functional assessment-based interventions (FABI) and the integration of phonics and fluency-based interventions within tiered systems of support for adolescents with co-occurring behavioral needs. She is also pursuing her Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification in the Department of Applied Behavioral Science at the University of Kansas. She earned her bachelor’s degree in childhood education and bilingual education from the College of Saint Rose and her master’s degree in special education – high-incidence disabilities from the University of Kansas. Prior to starting her doctoral program, she worked as a kindergarten teacher, teacher coach, and director of special education

Early Career Scholars: Cohort 2

Christy Austin
Tim Andress

Tim Andress is a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Special Education. His concentration is in learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. He holds dual B.S. degrees in Elementary Education & Special Education with a minor in Spanish and an M.A. degree in Special Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Prior to beginning his program at UT, he was a first-grade and fourth-grade dual-language teacher. He is currently working with UT researchers on research projects including Project ELITE2, Project C2, and UT’s research team related to the EL Center based out of the University of Houston. His research interests include literacy interventions for English learners with and without learning disabilities, evidence-based practices in bilingual education, and the effects of multilingualism.

Christy Austin
Katie Austin

 Katie Austin is a second-year doctoral student in Special Education at the University of Kansas. Her research interests include teacher preparation and in-service professional learning and coaching within tiered systems as well as identifying and scaling up evidence-based practices for use by general education teachers within comprehensive, integrated, three-tiered (Ci3T) models of prevention. Katie also has an interest in investigating evidence-based practices from a culturally responsive lens. Since the fall of 2019, she has been actively engaged in Enhancing Ci3T: Building Professional Capacity for High Fidelity Implementation to Support Students’ Educational Outcomes (Project ENHANCE) with a concentration in supporting the professional learning aspects of this project. Before coming to KU for her doctoral degree, Katie taught third and fourth grade general education for seven years and served as a school administrator for one year in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds her M.Ed. in K-6 instructional practice with an endorsement in teaching English Language Learners.

Christy Austin
Jessica Bourget

Jessica Bourget is an NCLII doctoral fellow in the Educational Psychology program at the University of Connecticut. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at Bennington College in the social sciences with a focus in psychology, and her Masters Degree in Special Education at the University of Washington. After graduation, she worked for four years in elementary resource-room settings; while there worked on the MTSS team helping to develop tiers of intervention for reading instruction, and the PBIS team to collect data and consult with teachers around implementing classroom interventions. Jessica also served as a mentor teacher and was chosen to be on the curriculum adoption committee to help select and pilot a social-skills curriculum for the district. Jessica’s research interests include reading intervention for students with learning disabilities at the elementary level, and teacher preparation — specifically how we can prepare special educators to be leaders in their buildings. Jessica is looking forward to learning how best to leverage the expertise of special educators in developing MTSS systems, and is excited to be an MTSS Research Network Early Career Scholar.

Christy Austin
Katie Lane

Katie Lane is a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut in the Research Methods, Measurement, and Evaluation program. Katie is interested in supporting schools in implementing systems founded upon evidence-based practices and making data-informed decisions. Specifically, she is interested in studying universal behavior screening within tiered systems and treatment integrity of tiered-systems implementation. She has worked with several research teams across the University of Kansas, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Connecticut with data collection, entry, and analysis activities on IES and NSF-funded projects. She previously earned her B.S. in special education at Vanderbilt University where she also completed a minor in quantitative methods.

Christy Austin
Sarah D. Newton

Sarah D. Newton is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Psychology. In this role, she provides data management, statistical analysis/modeling, and methodological support for multiple grant-funded research projects. In addition, Sarah serves as the Associate Director of Online Programs in Research Methods, Measurement, & Evaluation (RMME). She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in Educational Psychology (RMME concentration) at the University of Connecticut and her M.S. in Criminal Justice and B.A. in Criminology, with completed course requirements in Psychology, at Central Connecticut State University. Her methodological research focuses on: model/data fit and model adequacy as complementary tools for multilevel model evaluation and selection; information criteria performance in multilevel modeling contexts; latent variable modeling; instrument design; reliability and validity theory; and quantitative research methodology. Sarah is honored to be an MTSS Research Network Early Career Scholar and looks forward to applying her methodological skills to various MTSS-related research problems and questions.

Christy Austin
Katherine O’Donnell

Katherine O’Donnell is a doctoral student in Special Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests how to prepare pre- and in-service educators to work within a MTSS model and how that preparation affects student outcomes. In addition, she intends to research improving Tier 1 instruction and how to best support students who struggle academic skills in a general education environment.  Katherine currently works on Project BASIC, Project I-READ, and Project TEMPLE. She received her M.Ed. in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and went on to teach students with emotional and behavior disorders in a self-contained setting before teaching 7th and 8th grade students with mild to moderate disabilities in a resource setting for five years.

Christy Austin
Blair Payne

Blair Payne is a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin and a graduate assistant for the Meadow Center for Preventing Educational Risk. She is currently a part of the second cohort for the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention (NCLII) scholarship. She received her master’s from Vanderbilt University as well as her BCBA training. Prior to starting the doctoral program, Blair taught high school special education for five years. As a teacher and coordinator, she helped to found her school’s inaugural MTSS team. Her research interests are evidence based practice implementation in general education, universal Tier I models, sustainable MTSS practices, and academic and behavioral interventions for middle and high school students with co-morbid disabilities.

Christy Austin
Karen Robbie

Karen Robbie is a Research Assistant at the University of Connecticut focused on supporting the National Center on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). As a Ph.D. candidate in Prevention and Intervention studies at the University of Maine and a long-time elementary classroom teacher, Karen centers her work on bridging the gap between research and practice. Her research interests include supporting pre-service and early-career teachers’ implementation of the PBIS framework in classrooms. Additionally, Karen provides professional development and technical assistance to schools and districts throughout the Northeast, teaches undergraduate teacher preparation courses, and supervises teacher candidates during their practicum experiences. Karen serves on several national, state, and local committees, including the Association of Positive Behavior Support Student Network Board, the National Center on PBIS Rural Workgroup, and the Maine Department of Education PBIS/MTSS Stakeholder Committee. The goal of her work is to promote positive student outcomes and effective school environments for all.

Christy Austin
Kaitlyn Roy

Kaitlyn Roy is a doctoral candidate in the School Psychology program at the University of Oregon. She is interested in the effective implementation of MTSS and the use of universal screening and progress monitoring data to guide decision making. More specifically, Kaitlyn is interested in the effective use of this data to guide decision making for students from ethnic minority groups and English learners. Kaitlyn is a member of the DIBELS 8 Research and Development Team and the Academic Intervention Research Team at the University of Oregon. She is currently co-developing a new measure of early literacy skills for the DIBELS 8 system and has presented research on behalf of both research teams at several national and local conferences. Kaitlyn also co-leads the Parent/Family subgroup of the Academic Intervention Research Team, where she works alongside the National Center for Improving Literacy (NCIL) and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to develop resources for parents and families of children experiencing reading difficulties. Kaitlyn provides support to school districts and state-level agencies in implementing best practices in literacy assessment and intervention in collaboration with NCIL and CTL. She is a certified DIBELS 8 trainer and works closely with school districts to train education staff and provide ongoing support with the data-based decision making process.

Christy Austin
Heather Smith

Heather Smith is a doctoral student in Special Education at the University of Missouri.  She currently works as the Project Director for the Integrated MTSS Fidelity Rubric (IMFR) project.  In this role, she is working in a partnership between the University of Missouri and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to develop a valid and reliable tool for schools to use in measuring and developing their Integrated MTSS.  Heather received her BS in elementary education, her MS in Curriculum and Instruction and her ED.S. in School Leadership and Policy Analysis.  In the field, she has had the opportunity to teach first, third, and fifth grades as well as to be a teacher mentor and instructional coach.  Through the University of Missouri, Heather has supervised student teachers, taught undergraduate education courses, mentored first year education master’s students and taught a master’s course in Action Research.  These experiences gave her the opportunity to work within and facilitate the development of MTSS structures at the school and district level.  It was those experiences that led her to her role on the IMFR grant and now to seek her PhD with a focus on Integrated MTSS. Her research interests include the implementation of Integrated MTSS at the school and district level, teacher support and training in the MTSS process and the connection between effective Integrated MTSS and student outcomes.

Early Career Scholars: Cohort 1

Christy Austin
Christy Austin

Christy Austin recently completed her doctoral degree at the University of Texas at Austin studying special education, with a concentration in learning disabilities and behavioral disorders under Sharon Vaughn. Her dissertation investigated the relative effects of instruction linking word reading and word meaning compared to word reading instruction alone on the accuracy, fluency, and word meaning knowledge of students with dyslexia in fourth and fifth grade. She is starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah in the fall of 2020. Her research interests include: (a) intensive reading intervention for students with severe and persistent reading difficulties and disabilities, (b) theory-aligned reading intervention, and (c) policy and legislation related to screening, progress monitoring, and instruction for students with dyslexia.

Mark Buckman
Mark Buckman

Mark Buckman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas in the Department of Special Education. His research interests include identification and implementation of evidence-based practices, supporting educators in the context of tiered systems, and measurement of treatment integrity, social validity, and student outcomes in schools implementing comprehensive, integrated, three-tiered (Ci3T) models of prevention. Currently, he serves in a leadership role on two Institute of Education Sciences grants: Enhancing Ci3T: Building Professional Capacity for High Fidelity Implementation to Support Students’ Educational Outcomes (Project ENHANCE – Network Grant) and Project SCREEN: Validation of a Free-Access Screening Tool for K-12 Educators to Screen Students for Internalizing and Externalizing Behavior Patterns (Measurement Grant). He is also a member of the Ci3T Strategic Leadership Team, a core group of leaders seeking to advance understanding, implementation, evaluation, and sustainability of Ci3T models of prevention through rigorous scientific inquiry and respectful partnerships.
Before beginning his doctoral program, he worked as a special education paraprofessional paraeducator for five years and special education teacher for three years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, a Master of Science in Education in Early Childhood Unified, and a licensure in High-Incidence Special Education.

Julia Casasanto-Ferro
Julia Casasanto-Ferro

Julia Casasanto-Ferro is a researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) where she has been conducting special education research and program evaluations since 2007. Her experience concentrates on multi-tiered systems of support, evidence-based practices, and bridging research and practice.
Julia has worked on several OSEP-funded national technical assistance centers over the last 10+ years, including the National Center on Response to Intervention, the National Center on Intensive Intervention, and the National Center on Systemic Implementation. In her current position as the task leader for the National Center on Intensive Intervention’s Tools Charts, she manages the technical reviews of academic and behavior screening and progress monitoring assessment tools and intervention programs conducted by the Center’s technical review committees. This work comprises over 75 external reviewers having conducted over 500 reviews to date. Julia leads the subsequent dissemination of the review results through the development and maintenance of six tools charts—web-based charts synthesizing the technical rigor of the screening tools, progress monitoring tools, and intervention programs.
In a study funded by the National Center for Special Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences, Julia leads the development of the Integrated MTSS Fidelity Rubric, a tool that will measure school-level implementation of integrated academics and behavior multi-tiered systems of support.
In addition, Julia is adept at rigorous qualitative analysis, operational efficiency, project management, data visualization, and writing for multiple audiences. She earned her M.Ed. in Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation from Boston College in 2014 and her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts in 2006.

Mike Coyne
Michael Gentile

Michael Gentile is a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut. Originally from Boston, MA, he is a former special educator working with students with widely differing ability levels in elementary schools. His research interests are in the integration of academic and behavioral interventions to benefit all students and the preparation of the next generation of special educators.

Melissa Harman
Melissa Harman

Melissa Harman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oregon’s School Psychology Program. As a researcher, she supports UO’s Academic Intervention Research Team led by Dr. Hank Fien, Ph.D. Melissa’s interests are in identifying and supporting students with dyslexia and reading-related disabilities. As a graduate student, she has supported the National Center on Improving Literacy ‘s work in disseminating literacy research with poster presentations at the National Association of School Psychologists Conference, the International Dyslexia Association Conference, as well as several local conferences. Her research skills primarily lay in synthesizing best practices, current research, and disseminating information. As part of the Academic Intervention Research Team, she assisted in developing a rubric to analyze elements of direct instruction in literacy-based iPad applications. She is also a co-leader of her research team’s Parent and Family Subgroup focused on working on programs to support families of students with Dyslexia and other reading disabilities. Before beginning her Ph.D. program, Melissa worked for six years as a teacher in Michigan, Honduras, and Mexico. Her work as an educator was in general education as well as Tier 2 and 3 academic & behavioral intervention. She currently works for the University of Oregon teacher preparation program, UO Teach, as a student-teaching practicum supervisor. In addition to her research in MTSS, Melissa is interested in becoming a licensed psychologist and working in both assessment and intervention for children with academic, developmental, and behavioral concerns.

Jiyung Hwang
Jiyung Hwang

Jiyung Hwang is a 2nd-year doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Her research background is focused on early identification and intervention in early elementary, assessment for effective intervention for students with learning disabilities within multi-tiered or RTI framework. As a research assistant, she is currently working on Project IMFR (Integrated MTSS Fidelity Rubric)” funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) and Project STAIR (Supporting the teaching of algebra: Individual Readiness) funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S Department of Education. She has held certification in both early childhood general and special education and is a former special educator in community child center and elementary school in South Korea.

Jennifer Pierce
Jennifer Pierce

Jennifer D. Pierce, Ph.D., is a Senior Technical Assistant Consultant/Researcher for AIR with experience working as a teacher, coach, building-level and district-level leader. She has also served in higher education as a research assistant and instructor. Her areas of expertise center on supporting the implementation of evidence-based interventions by teachers and schools, including teacher and systems coaching models to reduce the research-to-practice gap; Implementation Science and systemic change, including frameworks across fields and factors associated with sustained use of evidence-based interventions; and, the application of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) across general and special education. Jennifer also has a background in literacy instruction for struggling adolescent learners. At AIR, Jennifer is the Project Director for an IES-funded study examining the psychometric properties of a MTSS fidelity tool. She also leads coaching and systems change projects for the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI). Previously, Jennifer served as the implementation and coaching lead for two randomized control trials. Dr. Pierce has authored peer-reviewed articles, numerous tools (including two online coaching modules), and is currently writing a book on coaching to improve teaching, learning, and educational systems. She earned her Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Washington and lives in New York City.

Mike Coyne
Mara Power

Mara Power is a Project NeXus II doctoral fellow in the Educational Psychology program at the University of Connecticut. She graduated magna cum laude from Salem State University with a major in English and received her master of arts in special education from Assumption University. She was previously a teacher of moderate special needs for eighteen years, holding a professional license in Massachusetts. Mara worked with children with severe emotional and behavioral disabilities for the majority of her career, teaching a wide variety of ages and grade levels. She continues to hone her expertise in Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Mara is interested in the impact of multi-tiered systems of support on the disproportionality of academic and discipline outcomes for racial, ethnic, and linguistically diverse students. Mara is also interested in evidence-based best practices in teaching pre-service special educators to be culturally responsive. She is thrilled to be an MTSS Research Network Early Career Scholar.

Clarisa Rodriguez
Clarisa Rodrigues

Clarisa Rodrigues is a doctoral student and CBER (Center for Behavioral Education and Research) graduate assistant in the Educational Psychology program at the University of Connecticut. She has a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology with a concentration in Special Education from the University of Connecticut and a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Southern Connecticut State University. Clarisa also taught special education in a self-contained classroom for students with severe academic and behavioral needs. Working closely with students and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, she felt a connection to her own culturally and linguistically diverse background and saw many areas for development in the special education field in terms of supporting this population of students and their families. Clarisa is looking forward to learning how integrated MTSS can support this population of students and is excited for the opportunity to be an MTSS Research Network Scholar.

Elizabeth Thomas
Elizabeth Thomas

Elizabeth Thomas is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri within Project PRISM: Preparing Interdisciplinary Leaders in Science and Mathematics Special Education, a leadership grant focused on preparing future scholars in the area of special education and mathematics or science education. Her research interests include implementation fidelity, the efficiency and sustainability of tiered systems of support, and supporting teachers of mathematics in working with students with disabilities. Elizabeth holds a certification in special reading, early childhood, and elementary education and has been an educator in Missouri public schools.