Recent Summer Fellows

Disability Research Consortium

A cooperative agreement with the Social Security Administration

To foster the development of new disability researchers and expand the evidence base guiding disability policy, the Center for Studying Disability Policy, through the Disability Research Consortium (DRC) and the Social Security Administration, funds disability policy scholars as they undertake policy-relevant studies within the DRC’s core research themes. While participating in the program, these fellows worked with mentors at Mathematica and conducted an independent research study on a disability policy issue of their choosing. 

2018 DRC Summer Experiential Learning Fellows
Giselle Casillas
Giselle Casillas is a second-year doctoral student in health services research and policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has research interests in marginalized and underserved populations, including people with disabilities, the elderly, LGBTQ people; and Latino/Latina communities. She is particularly interested in nursing home entry, the relationship between mental and physical health, and managed care for Medicare and Medicaid. Before starting at Johns Hopkins, Giselle researched outcomes for dual-eligible beneficiaries, nursing home quality, enrollment in and payment policy for Medicare Advantage, and senior dental health. During the summer, Giselle will research factors that contribute to nursing home entry among seniors and people with disabilities.
Haley Kimmet
Haley Kimmet is a second-year master’s student in public affairs at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She also works as an access consultant at the University of Minnesota’s Disability Resource Center, where she helps students with disabilities access higher education. As a person with a disability herself, Haley has found both personal and professional fulfillment in understanding the experiences of people with disabilities across health care systems. During the summer, Haley will conduct research on access to reproductive and sexual health care among women with disabilities.
Shruti Sheopurkar
Shruti Sheopurkar is a first-year master’s student in the economics program at Tufts University. She works as a consultant at the Academic Resource Center at Tufts to help students, including those with learning disabilities, mitigate stress and anxiety and incorporate better studying, organizing, and planning habits into their day-to-day lives. Her interests lie in the intersection of disability policy, labor markets, and compensation. Having worked with differently abled children from financially disadvantaged homes in India, Shruti is passionate about inclusive policy research. During the summer, she will assess econometric mechanisms to evaluate job-matching algorithms for candidates with disabilities to ensure that individuals find jobs that align with their abilities and interests.
Heather Swadley
Heather Swadley is a second-year doctoral student in political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her current research looks at justice disparities for people with psychiatric disabilities in employment-discrimination cases related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. More broadly, she is interested in understanding the types of structural changes necessary to achieve equal access for employees with psychiatric disabilities. Previously, Heather worked in United Kingdom politics as a caseworker in the House of Commons and helped implement and run a national mental health campaign within the Labour Party. During the summer, Heather will study the effects of supportive mechanisms in the workplace on employment outcomes for people with psychiatric disabilities.
2017 DRC Summer Experiential Learning Fellows
Luanjiano (Aggie) Hu
Luanjiao (Aggie) Hu is completing her second year of a doctoral program in the International Education Policy Program at University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests are in disability studies, higher education, and international education. She has done research on higher education access for students with disabilities in China and has taught on disability issues at the University of Maryland. She was also one of the invited speakers for the TEDx@UMD conference and gave a talk on disability and education. During the summer, Luanjiao will research on the employment policies and practices for people with visual impairments in the United States and China.
Ebony McCovery
Ebony McCovery will complete her Master’s degree in Child and Family Social Work from Clark Atlanta University in the spring of 2017, before beginning her doctoral studies at the Howard University School of Social Work in the fall. Her research interests center around alleviating the challenges minority populations face as a result of poverty, oppression, discrimination, and social injustice. During the summer, Ebony plans to conduct research related to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), with a focus on the experiences of African American youth with emotional-behavioral disabilities.
Kellie Palomba
Kellie Palomba is a second-year graduate student in the Dual Master’s Program for City and Regional Planning and Public Policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. She is interested in disability policy and accessible, inclusive design. Kellie has a passion for exploring possibilities for making the world a more socially and physically inclusive environment for people with disabilities and their families. During the summer, Kellie will research vocational training opportunities for individuals with disabilities on the severe end of the spectrum and those living in residential facilities.
Andrew Pomerville
Andrew Pomerville is a third year doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan. Andrew's research concerns the intersection of human rights and health services, with emphases on mental health services and marginalized populations. In the past, he has conducted research on several subjects including health service delivery for Indigenous populations and client/patient perceptions of therapy. During the summer, Andrew will investigate how distribution of disability resources affects the ability of people to live and work independently.
2016 DRC Summer Experiential Learning Fellows
Chris-Mike Agbelie
Chris-Mike Agbelie is completing his first year of a Ph.D. program in Health and Rehab Sciences with a concentration in Disability Studies from Stony Brook. His passion relates to improving disability supports in his home country of Ghana, and will use this fellowship is to dig into the U.S. disability system, and in particular, to learn more about the disincentives to work in the SSDI program (Ghana’s program eligibility also assumes an inability to work), and promising avenues for reform.
Caitlin Crabb
Caitlin Crabb is completing her second year of a Ph.D. program in disability studies at UIC. Caitlin’s research interests are related to the provision of home and community-based services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). She has done (and continues to do) substantial volunteer work with the Best Buddies Program, a non-profit dedicated to creating opportunities for friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with IDD.
Leiha Edmonds
Leiha Edmonds is in her second year at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Masters in Urban Planning and Policy program. Leiha's research interests are related to the intersections of disability policy and equitable economic development in metropolitan regions. Her focus over the summer will be learning more about the ACA and Medicaid expansion and its impact on employment and program participation.
Lauren Gilbert
Lauren Gilbert is in her second year at Georgetown University’s Masters of Public Policy (MPP) program. Lauren is interested in the intersection of disability and labor policy with a focus on employment for people with cognitive disabilities. She is currently helping the Georgetown McDonough School of Business build a social change model to improve the employment rates of people with disabilities.
2015 DRC Summer Experiential Learning Fellows
Molly Hawkins
Molly Hawkins is a Ph.D. student in economics at the University of Michigan. Before beginning graduate school, Ms. Hawkins worked for several years as a research associate at the Urban Institute in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, where she contributed to several projects related to chronic conditions and disabilities. She investigated determinants of a successful transition to adulthood among youth with disabilities.
Tawny Heibing
Tawny Hiebing is a Ph.D. student in rehabilitation counseling education at the University of Iowa. She has a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling and approaches her research through that lens. She is interested in the unique characteristics of people with traumatic brain injury who are using vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. Her research focused on understanding VR cases that are closed without receipt of services, particularly among clients deemed uncooperative.
Rebecca Johnson
Rebecca Johnson is a Ph.D. student in sociology at Princeton University. While completing her undergraduate degree in experimental psychology, she also completed a master's degree in religious studies; in both programs, she conducted research related to perceptions of, attitudes toward, and treatment of people with disabilities. She is interested in child SSI recipients and investigated the reasons for cross-state differences in the increase in child SSI recipients with mental illness.
Tabia Pope
Tabia Pope is a Ph.D. student in communication sciences and disorders at Howard University. Before beginning her doctoral studies, she was in clinical practice as a medical speech-language pathologist after obtaining her master's in communication sciences and disorders. Her interest is in VR services for people with traumatic brain injury, specifically the role of VR in reducing people's reliance on federal disability benefits through early intervention and labor market re-entry.
2014 DRC Summer Experiential Learning Fellows

Amber Davis is a Ph.D. student in social work at Howard University. Her summer project was an exploration of the factors that affect access of transition-age African American youth to State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services after high school. The purpose was to better understand the VR needs of a doubly-oppressed group based on markers of race and disability and provide disability policy recommendations for this unique sub-population.

Jenny Dick-Mosher is a Ph.D. student in sociology at Virginia Tech who examined the application of the Olmstead decision to sheltered workshops for people with disabilities. Her proposed project focused on the transition from institutions to community-based housing for people with disabilities in the state of Virginia, with an emphasis on the employment services that are available after the transition, and the extent to which they comply with the intent of the Olmstead decision.

Carrie Gillispie is a Ph.D. student in applied neuroscience with an emphasis in special education and disability at George Washington University. Her summer project examined the definition of autism and how it varies across federal agencies, including SSA and the Department of Education. She also explored how many youth have been served for autism under IDEA and SSI, how it changed over the past decade, and implications for services and outcomes for people with autism.

Stephanie Rennane is a Ph.D. student in economics at University of Maryland-College Park. Her summer research explored reasons for geographic variation in disability insurance participation rates at the county level. Her analysis considered how local factors independent of disability might affect participation rates, focusing on how expansions in internet access in the past decade might have influenced the completion of DI applications online.

Zach Morris is a Ph.D. student in social welfare at the University of California-Berkeley. His work analyzed the disability assessment processes in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Great Britain in order to identify lessons for the US disability determination process. Many SSDI reform proposals suggest the need to move away from a medical model of determining disability (that focuses primarily on identifying impairments) towards an assessment process that considers work capacity and what individuals can do in order to help them return to the labor market; Zach’s work explores how this might be achieved in the US context.