Disability Disciplines - Utah State University Skip to main content

Disability Disciplines: PhD

Disability Disciplines

The disability disciplines doctoral program focuses on producing the next generation of university professors and other national leaders in disciplines related to disabilities. USU’s graduate program in disability disciplines is in the top 20 of nationally ranked programs in its category, according to U.S. News & World Report. All specializations have a common emphasis on providing students with coursework and hands-on experience in conducting research, writing grants, reporting research through writing and conference presentation, and teaching and supervising at a university level.


  • Special Education: This specialization prepares graduates to become university faculty in special education. They receive the necessary training through research, scholarship, and teaching experience in the program.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis with Individuals with Disabilities: Students in this specialization are able to practice a scientific approach to behavior therapy for people with disabilities in clinical and educational settings. They also receive the education and training they need to become university faculty in applied behavior analysis.
  • Rehabilitation Counseling: Students in this specialization prepare to become university faculty in rehabilitation counseling or agency administrators. Doctoral students gain experience in teaching both traditional on-campus and technology-mediated distance courses in conjunction with the rehabilitation counseling master's program, which is ranked among the top 15 in the nation.
  • Disabilities Studies: Students in this specialization acquire a deeper understanding of the complexities of disabilities in the context of changing demographics and societies. Students are able to engage in research activities with individuals with disabilities to understand and provide solutions to these issues.
  • Speech-Language Pathology: Speech-language pathology prepares students to work with individuals of any age who have difficulties communicating, learning to communicate, or feeding and swallowing. Students at the PhD level are prepared to work as university faculty and conduct research in speech-language issues.
  • Pathokinesiology: The pathokinesiology specialization focuses on the scientific study of human movement (kinesiology) as it relates to any abnormal condition (patho) affecting movement and postural dysfunctions. The interdisciplinary program is organized around three core content areas: motor control, motor learning and biomechanics and prepares students to be productive in research and to pursue a career in academia.
  • Audiology: This specialization prepares graduates to become university faculty in audiology. They receive the necessary training through research, scholarship, and teaching experience in the program.

Students who graduate with this degree are prepared to become faculty at universities, to work as administrators, or as high-level practitioners in their respective areas.

Admission Requirements

Requirements for specific undergraduate and master's degrees depend on the specialization. All specializations require extensive experience and knowledge of the relevant field prior to admission. Students should contact the department for specific prerequisite requirements for each specialization.

Application Requirements:

  • Complete the online application
  • Pay the $55 application fee
  • Score at or above the 40th percentile on in the GRE
  • Provide official transcripts of all college/university credits
  • Provide three contacts for letters of recommendation
  • GPA of 3.0 or higher during most recent 60 semester hours
  • Teaching experience is strongly encouraged
  • Provide letter of intent

International students have additional admissions requirements.

Admission Deadlines

The department has the following application deadline:

  • Fall semester - January 15

Program Requirements

Students are required to pass a preliminary exam at the end of their first year.

In place of traditional PhD qualifying exams, students must complete all of the following:

  • Perform substantial research
  • Write and submit a publishable paper
  • Give a conference presentation
  • Participate in grant writing
  • Demonstrate competence in college teaching
  • Demonstrate competence in supervision
  • Complete a systematic literature review

Financial Assistance

The department supports its graduate students with federal training and research grants. As these grants change on a yearly basis, students should contact the department for more information.

A variety of additional funding opportunities are available, including fellowships, scholarships, assistantships, tuition awards, and travel support. Additionally, students may be eligible for subsidized health insurance through qualifying assistantships.

Sarah Bloom, PhD, University of Florida
Assistant Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Functional analysis and treatment of problem behavior, verbal behavior, reinforcer efficacy, early childhood
Office: EDUC 329
Phone: (435) 797-7471
Email: sarah.bloom@usu.edu

Eadric Bressel, PhD, University of Northern Colorado
Area: Kinesiology
Office: HPER 148
Phone: 435-797-7216
Email: eadric.bressel@usu.edu

Dennis Dolny, PhD, Kent State University
Department Head and Professor
Area: Exercise Physiology, Aquatic Exercise Evaluation
Office: HPER 122 A
Phone: (435) 797-7579
Email: dennis.dolny@usu.edu

Lillian Duran, PhD, University of Minnesota
Assistant Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: ELL, ECSE, language and literacy development of Spanish-speaking children, services for culturally and linguistically diverse young children with special needs
Office: EDUC 320
Phone: (435) 797-7320
Email: lillian.duran@usu.edu

Tom Higbee, PhD, University of Nevada - Reno
Associate Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Behavior analysis, autism, functional assessment, intervention
Office: EDUC 328
Phone: (435) 797-1933
Email: tom.higbee@usu.edu

Judith Holt, PhD, University of Texas - Austin
Associate Professor/Director, Center for Persons with Disabilities
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Children and youth with sensory impairments, program evaluation, interdisciplinary training, adults with disabilities
Office: CPD 196
Phone: (435) 797-7157
Email: judith@cpd.usu.edu

Ben Lignugaris-Kraft, PhD, Utah State University
Interim Department Head
Area: Effective Instruction; Instructional Design; students with Mild Disabilities
Office: EDUC 385A
Phone: (435) 797-2382
Email: ben.lig@usu.edu

Michael Millington, PhD, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Research Assistant Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Rehabilitation, administration and services, vocational evaluation, disability and employment, dissemination
Office: HSRC 025
Phone: (435) 797-3488
Email: michael.millington@usu.edu

Bob Morgan, PhD, Utah State University
Associate Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Behavior analysis, transition, para-educator training, employment training
Office: EDUC 324
Phone: (435) 797-3251
Email: bob.morgan@usu.edu

Scott Ross, PhD, University of Oregon
Associate Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Assessment and treatment of problem behavior, acquisition of verbal behavior, early childhood
Office: EDUC 305
Phone: (435) 797-3240
Email: scott.ross@usu.edu

Charles Salzberg, PhD, University of Kansas
Professor, Graduate Program Coordinator
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Behavior analysis, students with disabilities in higher education, special education policies, mild-moderate disabilities, teacher education, multimedia training curriculum
Office: EDUC 326
Phone: (435) 797-3234
Email: c.salzberg@usu.edu

Andrew Samaha, PhD, University of Florida
Assistant Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Autism, assessment and treatment of severe problem behavior, conditioned reinforcement, translational research, applied behavior analysis
Office: EDUC 490
Phone: (435) 797-1633
Email: andrew.samaha@usu.edu

Sydney Schaefer, PhD, Pennsylvania State University
Assistant Professor
Area: Motor control and neuro-rehabilitation
Office: HPER 142
Phone: 435-797-8441
Email: sydney.schaefer@usu.edu

Jared Schultz, PhD, University of Northern Colorado
Associate Professor
Director of Rehabilitation Counseling Programs
Area: Counseling techniques and supervision in rehabilitation, rehabilitation research priorities, philosophy applied to disability
Office: EDUC 303
Phone: (435) 797-3478
Email: jared.schultz@usu.edu

Tim Slocum, PhD, University of Washington
Associate Professor
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Mild disabilities, reading/learning disabilities, research design, evidence-based practices, instruction design, behavior analysis
Office: EDUC 314
Phone: (435) 797-3212
Email: tim.slocum@usu.edu

Julie Smart, PhD, University of Northern Colorado
Professor, Director of Graduate Program
Department: Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department
Area: Distance learning, multicultural rehabilitation, rehabilitation of Hispanic Americans, Spanish language translation of rehabilitation instruments, rehabilitation counselor education, women with disabilities
Office: EDUC 322
Phone: (435) 797-3269
Email: julie.smart@usu.edu

Breanna Studenka, PhD, Purdue University
Assistant Professor
Area: Sensory Motor Behavior and Motor Control
Office: HPER 144
Phone: 435-797-0109
Email: breanna.studenka@usu.edu

Professional Organizations, Honor Societies, and Clubs

Association for Behavior Analysis International: ABAI is a nonprofit professional membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: ASHA is the professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 140,000 members and affiliates who are speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists in the United States and internationally.

Council for Exceptional Children: This is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of individuals with disabilities and/or gifts and talents. CEC advocates for appropriate governmental policies, sets professional standards, provides professional development, advocates for individuals with exceptionalities, and helps professionals obtain conditions and resources necessary for effective professional practice.

Utah Rehabilitation Association: URA is a recognized chapter of the National Rehabilitation Association. It is a private, nonprofit organization with the goal of providing quality rehabilitation for persons with disabilities. USU has a student chapter of the URA.

American Society of Biomechanics: The American Society of Biomechanics (ASB) was founded in 1977 to encourage and foster the exchange of information and ideas among biomechanists working in different disciplines and to facilitate the development of biomechanics as a basic and applied science.

Society of Neuroscience: The Society for Neuroscience is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 42,000 members in more than 90 countries and 130 chapters worldwide.

International Society for Posture and Gait Research: The ISPGR provides a multidisciplinary forum for basic and clinical scientists to present and discuss the latest research and clinical findings relating to the control of posture, gait and related disorders.

North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity: The North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity is a multidisciplinary association of scholars from the behavioral sciences and related professions. The Society functions to: develop and advance the scientific study of human behavior when individuals are engaged in sport and physical activity; facilitate the dissemination of information; improve the quality of research and teaching in the psychology of sport, motor development, and motor learning and control.

Labs, Centers, Research

Autism Support Services - Education, Research, and Training: ASSERT is a classroom at the Center for Persons with Disabilities that offers training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, while providing intensive, individualized instruction to preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. USU students can apply to work in the program and earn either university credit or compensation while learning how to effectively teach students with autism spectrum disorder.

Biomechanics Laboratory: The biomechanics laboratory in the HPER building can be rooted back to the mid 1980’s when Steve Dunn began using a dedicated space in the HPER building to teach basic hands-on concepts related to biomechanics. By the early 1990’s Julianne Abendroth-Smith became the director of the laboratory and with her appointment basic kinetic and kinematic equipment was acquired. Eadric Bressel took over as director in 2000 and with the help of Gerry Smith and Chris Dakin have steadily advanced the laboratory with state of the art equipment. The biomechanics laboratories in the CCE building were conceived by Dennis Dolny in 2012. These laboratories will have their grand opening May 3rd 2018.

Center for Persons with Disabilities: The CPD is a nationally recognized research center that joins the expertise of researchers and faculty with community partners to address the most difficult challenges facing persons with disabilities and their families. Research addresses issues that cross fields ranging from biomedicine to education. In clinical experiences, learners join teams of professionals, family members, and individuals with disabilities to deliver services and supports.

Early Intervention Research Institute: The EIRI is an interdisciplinary organization committed to investigating and improving policies and practices that support the well-being of at-risk children as well as those with special needs and their families. The institute conducts research as well as provides training and technical assistance at community, state, national, and international levels.

Edith Bowen Laboratory School: EBLS is one of Utah’s charter schools, offering services to more than 300 students grades K-5. The school, in cooperation with Utah State University, trains more than 200 pre-service teachers preparing to become professional educators, as well as supporting several other departments/colleges on campus, including special education, physical education, music, psychology, and business. Because the school is funded through state funds and donations, no tuition is charged to students.

EmployAbility Clinic: The EmployAbility clinic provides direct services to individuals with disabilities living in the Cache Valley community, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other individuals with severe disabilities. In addition, the clinic provides opportunities for advanced instruction for graduate students in the rehabilitation counseling program, and opportunities for conducting research in the area of employment for individuals with disabilities. Clinic staff also work extensively with employers in the development of natural supports within the work environment to ensure continued success following the withdrawal of direct employment support services.

Motor Rehabilitation and Learning Laboratory: Research within the MRL Lab focuses on how the human nervous system learns new motor skills and relearns existing ones during motor recovery following neural damage. Findings from this research are currently providing much-needed evidence to support and optimize the design of targeted rehabilitative training for older adults across a range of age-related physical disabilities.

Sensory Motor Behavior Laboratory: The general research of the Sensory Motor Behavior Laboratory concerns how we plan for and control movements that occur in sequence.

Severe Behavior Clinic: This is an outpatient clinic that serves children and adults with disabilities who engage in problem behavior. The clinic is a cooperative project between the Special Education and Rehabilitation and Psychology departments as well as USU’s Center for Persons with Disabilities. Services provided include functional analysis of problem behavior, function-based interventions, and caregiver training.

SKI*HI Institute: The SKI-HI Institute enhances the lives of young children with special needs, their families, and care givers. The institute’s training and services focus on early intervention and early childhood programming for infants and young children, ages birth to five years, with hearing and vision impairments and other disabilities.