For more than 20 years, Dottie Millar’s research has focused on guardianship alternatives for those with developmental disabilities.
“It’s about dignity, self-determination and respect,” she said. It’s a modest statement about an issue that affects hundreds of thousands if not millions of people — those disabled or “exceptional” — as well as those who raise, care for, educate and support them.
A Braun Fellow from 2011 to 2014, the professor of education used that program’s research stipend to ramp up her research. The efforts paid off. Though humble about admitting it, Millar is considered an expert in this area of research.
She will continue her research and publishing, but Millar is now tackling another project, this one closer to home. From asking the question, “can we do more?” was born C of IDEAS. It is an interdisciplinary program involving every SVSU college and partners throughout the region, all with a goal of answering “yes.”
IDEAS is an acronym for “Ingenuity and Discovery through Education, Alliances and Scholarship.” The “C” stands for collaboration and also represents the intent that with multiple partners and bright and engaged people working together, a “sea” of ideas and projects will result.
Planning for C of IDEAS began in summer of 2014. In January 2015, an exploratory meeting took place, followed by a strategic planning meeting in April 2015. There, SVSU, four ISDs (Genesee County, Bay-Arenac, Midland and Saginaw), community mental health agencies (Midland, Bay, Saginaw), The ARC (Midland), Disability Network, special education teachers and parents of kids with developmental disabilities came together to talk about what they could do. Millar says the resulting goals are aggressive, but do-able.
For starters, C of IDEAS will collect, share and exchange information that enables the community to access and improve existing services. In other words, “communication” will be paramount. Additional goals include research, creating support to further educate those involved with disability and, gathering input in order to develop new opportunities, including a survey to help determine needs in the region and a policy summit, hosted on the SVSU campus.
When asked how SVSU students benefit from C of IDEAS, Millar smiles.
“Where do I start?” she muses. “Perhaps engineering students will help adapt a bike for a kid who wants to ride a bike. Occupation Therapy students can work on ways to offer independent living options. Special education majors will benefit from field experiences. Marketing majors can write plans for agencies, political science majors can explore policy issues, and so on.”
Complicated and layered, and yet simple, too: honoring dignity, self-determination, respect. And a university and education professor leading the way.