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UofL Doctoral Student Pursues Degree to ‘Prepare the World’ for Students with Autism

This article originally appeared on UofLNews.com and is reprinted with permission.

Lorita RowlettLorita Rowlett, like so many students, wears a variety of hats: mother, teacher and student, to name a few.

Rowlett is pursuing her doctoral degree in special education through the College of Education and Human Development and says it is the only path she could have imagined pursuing.

“After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I went right into teaching and taught in a self-contained classroom for eight years,” Rowlett said. “I switched to special education because I have a son who was diagnosed with autism, so it became my life. I wanted to help other moms like me.”

Initially inspired to improve the curriculum and instruction for students in her own classroom, Rowlett returned to UofL to receive her master’s degree in special education with a focus in autism studies.

“I pursued that degree just to make myself a better classroom teacher because I felt like there was more I could be doing for my students,” she said.

Rowlett’s focus narrowed as her own child progressed through the traditional school system.

“My son attempted college but was not successful on his first try. He is working now, and it took time to find a job that was supportive of him,” Rowlett said. “And it was hard watching him feel like he was failing. A lot of times, I had to remind him, ‘The world is not ready for people like you.’ So, I’m back in school to help prepare the world to be ready for people like him.”

In her seventh year of teaching, Rowlett began to consider the opportunity of returning to pursue her doctoral degree.

“I ran into one of my son’s teachers, and she said, ‘Well, now that your son has graduated, what are you going to do for yourself?’ Moms don’t really think like that,” she said. “Like, what? For myself?”

But the seed had been planted. So, when she learned of a grant through the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Special Education, Early Childhood, and Prevention Science called Project P.U.R.P.L.E, she knew she had found an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

Project P.U.R.P.L.E. (Preparing Urban and Rural Personnel as Leaders in Education) is a cooperative partnership between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky that provides full tuition and other benefits for students pursuing doctoral degrees in education.

Rowlett has also been recognized as an AACTE Holmes Scholar, a program housed within the Nystrand Center of Excellence in Education. This program provides mentorship, peer support and professional development to education doctoral students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Through her studies, Rowlett has narrowed her focus to transition planning and the creation of engaging and supportive environments for students with autism. The impact of her education has begun to extend through both her personal and professional lives.

“My son’s employers often draw off my experiences and ask for my professional advice. I just had a phone call from my cousin, who is also a special educator and wanted me to come talk to his neighbor who has a son on the autism spectrum who needs help with transition services,” she said.

Rowlett’s eyes are on the future and the many ways she sees herself making an impact in education.

“My dream is to help create policies and procedures that streamline the transition process for students and their families,” she said. “It’s never going to be perfect because the world is ever changing, but I really want to streamline these processes so that parents aren’t frustrated and left in the dark, and so that these individuals with unique needs can be successful.”


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