Early Career Scholars

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.

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.