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New program aims to educate future leaders in disability care

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Front Page, News


Thursday afternoon, Brandeis announced a significant new program, one that is designed to make Brandeis a forerunner in preparing students to become leaders in disability-related fields.

The program was made possible by a $450,000 grant, donated by the Ruderman Family Foundation. These funds have created the Ruderman Social Justice Scholars in Disability, and will provide for scholarships, new Brandeis courses and stipends for internships and research assistants. The scholarship can also only be awarded to a Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) major and will include 15 scholars over a period of four years. This semester, the inaugural scholars are Danielle Sackstein ’14 and Ruth Zeilicovich ’14.

The Ruderman Family Foundation is a Jewish institution, one that works in both the United States and Israel. According to a press release issued by Brandeis, “The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community. Guided by our Jewish values, we support effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy in our core areas of interest: advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community; fostering a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders; and modeling the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide.” The inaugural scholars all hold a strong passion for working with people with disabilities.

Sackstein is a longtime member of Brandeis Buddies, a Waltham Group program that works with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also worked at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and Partners Health Care. She became an activist for policy reform, attempting to help a woman who had lost access to medical files about her disabled son.

“I applied to the Ruderman Scholarship because I want to further my understanding of the challenges that people with disabilities face in their access to health care services and information, and also because I want to investigate the ways in which policies and procedures are being implemented to positively address these challenges,” said Sackstein, in the formal essay she wrote to apply for the scholarship.

Sackstein was very excited to hear she had become a Ruderman Scholar. “The scholarship comes with a stipend, but the most rewarding aspect of the Ruderman Scholarship is the mentored research and truly experiential learning that accompanies the award,” she said in an interview with The Hoot.

After graduation, Sackstein plans to continue working on improving the health care system. “I plan to pursue a career in health care quality and process improvement, with a particular focus on patient-centered care. I believe that patient empowerment and engagement is critical to the success of the American healthcare system,” she said.

The other scholar selected this semester, Zeilicovich, has focused on a specific aspect of the umbrella term that is “disability.” “My personal passion is in the mental health field and the disabilities that those suffering from these disorders and their families have to face,” Zeilicovich said in an interview with The Hoot this week. “They have really been neglected by the health care system. I spent this past summer interning at the HaSharon Hospital in Petakch Tikvah, Israel, where I worked with the Department of Social Work. During this time I had direct contact with those who suffer from disabilities and worked to make sure that they would not be neglected by the health system.”

After hearing she was one of this semester’s scholars, Zeilicovich reports feeling shocked and honored that she was chosen for this competitive award. “I was also really excited and ready to start learning about how I could personally make a difference in the world,” she said.

Zeilicovich also spoke about her responsibility as a scholar. “Danielle and I are responsible for the creation of an intervention to encourage the caregivers of women with intellectual disabilities to get their clients screened [via mammogram and pap test]. The intervention will educate caregivers on breast and cervical cancer, and it will focus on how to stand up to doctors … The intervention will tell caregivers that [disabled] women are in fact eligible, they are covered through Medicaid, and it will teach them how to be advocates. The program will be free for all, and we are going to partner with the ARC of the United States,” she said.

In addition to naming these two scholars, Brandeis also announced two faculty contacts. Sara Shostak, associate professor of sociology and chair of the HSSP program, along with Susan L. Parish, the Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Disability Police and the director of the Lurie Institution for Disability Policy, will oversee the program.

“Professor Parish and I are responsible for selecting scholars, helping to place scholars in internships in organizations working in the disability field and providing them with an opportunity to be mentored in research projects focused on disability issues,” said Shostak in an interview. “I’m also very excited that this program includes support for two new courses … my other role is to help guide these new courses through the development and approval process.”

These new course offerings are a way that the Ruderman grant will affect all students, regardless of whether or not they receive the scholarship.

“The new courses on disability being established with the support of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s gift will be open to the student body. So, the grant directly benefits all students at Brandeis who are interested in issues of disability and inclusion, as well as the students selected to be scholars,” Shostak said.

When asked why this grant is such an honor for Brandeis, Parish responded that the partnership between Brandeis and the Ruderman family is very significant.

“As two major institutions within the Jewish community dedicated to the concept of Tikkun Olam—healing the world—it is especially meaningful for Brandeis and the Ruderman Family Foundation to partner on this project, because it speaks to our shared mission to improve society. Disability inclusion is a vital aspect of creating and maintaining an open and just society. However, few universities provide courses and out-of-classroom experiences to undergraduate students in this area. This new funding support … enables Brandeis to do just that,” she said in an interview with The Hoot this week.

Zeilicovich also believes this grant is huge achievement for Brandeis. “It continues to put Brandeis on the top of the list for disability research. In my eyes, Brandeis and social justice are synonyms and this program is just another example of that,” she said.

Sackstein has words of advice for people interested in applying for this award in the future.
“Know that this is a truly hands-on, experiential opportunity. You will have the unique ability to work alongside leaders in the field of disability policy and play an instrumental role in designing and implementing interventions that serve to improve the lives of people with disabilities. A strong candidate is compassionate, open-minded and demonstrates a desire to create a more inclusive society,” she said.