2023-2024 CT LEND Trainees
Ajla Ahmetovic: Ajla is a first-year master’s student in the School Psychology program at the University of Connecticut. She earned a Psychological Sciences degree in 2023 while in the Honors program at the University of Connecticut. Her honors thesis explored the question: “Is there enough mental health access in schools?” To answer this question, she conducted a comprehensive literature review of perspectives and barriers of school mental health workers and various student populations. She presented this research to faculty at UConn. During undergrad, Ajla worked as a preschool teacher at a daycare and as a writing consultant at UConn Hartford’s Writing Center. As a preschool teacher, she worked alongside children with ASD, behavioral technicians, and their families in creating daily care plans for her students. While tutoring students at the Writing Center she learned how the school environment can become a more accessible place for students. During undergrad, she also held an internship at the Boys and Girls Club of Meriden mentorship program, where she gained leadership experience and learned the significance of children having a trusted adult to communicate with. She looks forward to expanding her learning under CT LEND and hopes to develop more techniques and knowledge on how to become a better advocate and active listener for students and their families as a prospective school psychologist.
Marie Balemian: Marie is a first-year master's student in the School Psychology department at the University of Connecticut. She previously received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Fairfield University in 2023, with a concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience. Marie has worked as a behavior technician for the past year, with a specific focus on early intervention in young children on the autism spectrum. In her future work, Marie hopes to specialize in early intervention for her future students. Having volunteered in the psychiatric labs at Mount Sinai in NYC, Marie hopes to continue both hands-on experience as well as research through the opportunities that the LEND program provides. When Marie is not volunteering or working on assignments, she loves to spend time with family, friends, and her Shih Tzu, Skippy!
Emily Bowmar: Emily is a second-year graduate student at UConn in the Speech-Language Pathology M.A. program. She received her bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders with a minor in education at Springfield College. During her undergraduate studies, Emily spent time as a student clinician at an elementary school and in the birth-3 setting while also working as a behavior technician. As a graduate student, Emily has treated both pediatric and adult patients presenting with a variety of conditions such as CAS, autism, dysarthria, dysphonia, aphasia, and cognitive impairment at the UConn Speech and Hearing Clinic. Emily spent the summer at River Street Autism Program- Birken Campus where she curated and executed speech/language sessions for students with autism aged 5-17. Emily has interest working with the pediatric autism population after graduation but also has strong hopes to gain more experience in the adult population to explore neurodevelopmental disorders across the lifespan as part of the LEND program. Outside of the clinical world, Emily loves animals, hiking, and doing crafts.
Stella Bragoni: Stella is in her 2nd year of her clinical Doctorate of Audiology program at the University of Connecticut. She completed her undergraduate degree at SHU in psychology with a minor in speech pathology in 2022. Her current clinical interests are cochlear implants and educational audiology. She hopes to gain knowledge and experience in the LEND program to best support patients and families from an interdisciplinary approach.
Denzel Closs: Denzel is a college student at Goodwin University, majoring in Human Services. Denzel is on the autism spectrum and works closely with the autism community as a role model/advocate. He works for a program in Berlin, CT called Autism Families Connecticut which helps people on the spectrum come out of their shells to interact with others who are just like them. He also works at TJ Maxx in Wethersfield, CT. In his free time, he loves writing poetry and has his own YouTube channel. He is excited to participate in LEND so that he can continue to advocate for people with autism. Denzel loves watching movies, is a huge wrestling fan, loves collecting flags, and loves listening to his meditation app.
Colleen Coogan: Colleen is a second-year graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at UConn Hartford. Colleen has also obtained a B.A. in Psychological Sciences and Women Gender and Sexuality Studies from UConn in 2022. Last semester, Colleen interned at Adelbrook, a residential facility for children with Autism. Colleen has a particular interest in clinical work with populations dealing with anxiety, trauma, depression, and autism spectrum disorder with a focus on keeping an intersectional approach. She chose to be a part of LEND due to her interest in the autism population and her past two and current internships serving this particular population. Outside of school, Colleen enjoys traveling and spending time with her dog named Millie who is a beagle-chihuahua-lab mix!
Sage Dutton: Sage is a first-year graduate student at the University of Connecticut studying for her Master’s in Special Education and is a long term trainee in the LEND program. Sage obtained her B.S. from Southern Connecticut State University in Special Education. Sage has been a longtime advocate for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as for the past 10 years has been a caretaker for a young adult with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum. She has also worked as a volunteer coach and partner for Special Olympics starting at the age of 14 for multiple sports. Sage has been a paraprofessional in a variety of different classrooms, working in both the PRIDE program for students with Autism and an intensive behavioral classroom working with students who have specific behavioral and life skills needs. Sage is excited to be a part of the LEND program as it will allow her to continue to gain new skills and knowledge that will advance her ability to continually advocate and support people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Sophiya Esponda: Sophiya received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts in Public Health, with a minor in Chinese culture and Language. In high school, she was a member of the action club which helped students advocate for themselves and others in the community. Throughout her studies in Public Health, she focused on vulnerable populations and community-led advocacy. She believes that everyone has a right to a safe and healthy environment. She applied to CT LEND to be a more capable and inclusive health professional. Sophiya spent the last year in Spain, teaching English and living with a host family.
Risa Farugia: Risa is a first-year master's student in the School Psychology program at the University of Connecticut. Prior to this, she received her bachelor's degree from Florida State University with a double major in Psychology and Human Development and Family Science with a minor in Education. She also received a certificate in Interdepartmental Developmental Disabilities from FSU's School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, which included a semester-long practicum working in an ESE classroom at Oak Ridge Elementary, a low-SES majority-minority school located in Tallahassee, Florida. She is interested in studying the best ways to support students with specialized learning needs within the public education system and is excited to learn more about this through LEND! She also looks forward to hearing from and working alongside students and faculty across various disciplines. In her free time, she enjoys reading, tending to her many house plants, and playing with her two cats, Niko and Wren. After grad school, she hopes to work as a school psychologist for a public school district to help students succeed academically, emotionally, and socially, along with to provide help and suggestions to parents and educators in her community.
Monica Fenwick: Monica is a second-year graduate student in the Speech-Language Pathology master’s program at UConn. She has completed her bachelor's degree in Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies with a concentration in Communication Sciences and Disorders and a minor in Education from Assumption University. Monica has found a passion for serving individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities through a variety of internship placements, including the New England Center for Children and UConn Health. Following graduation, she plans to work with the adult population and hopes that participating in LEND will advance her leadership and advocacy skills for those with disabilities across the lifespan. In her free time, Monica enjoys spending time with her friends and family, trying out new restaurants, and competing in the Miss America Organization.
Kaitlyn Gorman: Kaitlyn is a first-year graduate student, getting a degree in Educational Psychology which concentrates in Special Education. She obtained her bachelor’s degree at the University of Connecticut in Human Development and Family Sciences with a concentration in early childhood. Over the summer, Kaitlyn worked as a behavior technician doing behavior therapy for children with autism. After graduation, Kaitlyn wants to work in the field of early intervention as a developmental specialist serving children with developmental delays from birth to three. By being a part of the LEND program, she will be able learn different skills and gain the knowledge to be able to strive in her future career.
Lynda Kazairwe: Lynda is the mother of three boys: Sinza, Baraka, and Amari. Lynda works as a Genetic Navigator for PATH CT and is a proprietor of Divine HomeCare Co. Amari, her precious son, was born in 2018 and diagnosed with SMA Type 1 at 10 weeks. He subsequently received diagnoses of hydrocephalus, restricted lung disease, and neuromuscular scoliosis.
Amari's name means "strong," and he lived up to it despite all odds. Amari is best described as a ray of sunshine. Smart, smart, kind, witty, inquisitive, affectionate, loving, and the friendliest member of the family. Through the family's lived experience Lynda developed a strong sense of empathy, resilience, and a profound understanding of the value of accessible and inclusive systems. Lynda is devoted to actively pursuing opportunities to enhance the lives of families facing similar issues as an advocate and home health care provider. Drawing on her skills as a lawyer and human resources professional and her family's lived experience, she hopes to help families live dignified lives. Lynda has since acquired training as a parent listener and is a graduate of Partners in Policy Making 2021, MSRGN training for Genetic Navigators 2022, and other specialized training. She is currently a member of the project advisory council of Promoting Equitable Access to Language Services for Families of CYSHCN (PEALS), as well as the Newborn Screening Family Advisory Board of CCMC. She also serves on the board of SHAKAN Global, an international nonprofit that helps underprivileged children in Uganda. Lynda is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration in Health Care Management.
Lucy Littlefield: Lucy is a third-year Educational Psychology graduate student at UConn studying dual-concentrations in Learning Sciences & School Psychology. She also completed her undergraduate degrees in Music and Psychological Sciences at UConn in the Spring of 2019. Before returning to graduate school full-time, Lucy worked as a substitute teacher and Registered Behavior Technician, where they found their initial interests in working with students with disabilities. Lucy applied for the I3 PREP program because she wanted to continue to grow her knowledge and experiences of working with individuals with disability. Passionate about inclusive education and policy in the school setting, Lucy hopes to use this program to gain the skills needed to become an effective advocate for accessible education for all students. Lucy was born in and adopted from China.
Jennifer Manganello: Jennifer is a Professor at the University at Albany School of Public Health. She received a Master’s in Public Health from Boston University and a Ph.D. from the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research and teaching focuses on health literacy as well as the effects of media and technology on attitudes, behaviors, and policies that impact health, and much of her work focuses on children, adolescents, young adults, and parents. She currently serves on several work groups and committees for various state agencies and organizations. She is also the parent of a child with developmental disabilities. Due to her personal experiences, she would like to use her professional expertise to help make information, services and supports easier to access and navigate, and to reduce health inequities for children with disabilities through research and practice. She is participating in the LEND program to build her knowledge of disabilities and services to support her work in this area.
Laura Markle: Laura is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut in her second year of the Counselor Education master’s program with a focus on School Counseling. She graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2022 with a BA in Psychology and Human Development and Family Sciences. Laura is currently interning in the school counseling department at a Connecticut high school where she works to meet the diverse needs of all students. Prior to joining the CT LEND program, she worked as both a Mentor and Teaching Assistant for the First Year Experience program at UConn, helping new students transition to the many changes that come along with entering college, as well as training fellow students on how to be successful mentors themselves. Laura was also a Peer Advisor in the Psychology Undergraduate Advising Office at UConn where she worked one-on-one with students to guide them through any challenges they faced, whether that be academically, socially, physically, or mentally, in order to provide them with a positive and successful experience at the university. As a helping professional, a school counselor needs to be an advocate for all students, and she is confident that her work with CT LEND will shape her into a well-rounded and competent counselor. She is excited to discover more about the interconnectedness of school counseling and special education and feels as though her work with CT LEND will enhance her abilities, skills, and knowledge when supporting students with disabilities in the academic setting.
Ryan Miela: Ryan is currently a third-year audiology doctoral student at the University of Connecticut. Prior to graduate school, Ryan received her bachelor's degree from UConn with emphasis in Communication Disorders and Human Development and Family Studies. She has studied interpersonal communication for many years and has a passion for facilitating effective communication for children and families. Ryan hopes to learn more about diverse patient populations to better serve patients and their families. Upon graduating from her program, she hopes to become a pediatric audiologist who specializes in cochlear implants and hearing care for medically complex patients. Ryan has two dogs named Sunny and August (Gus).
Eliza Mulkern: Eliza is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut in her second year of the Clinical Doctorate of Audiology program. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Speech Language and Hearing Sciences from the University of Arizona. Eliza’s professional focus as an audiologist revolves around her dedication to working with children who have disabilities and their families, where she strives to provide expert audiological care and support. She enrolled in the LEND program with the aim of delivering the highest standard of healthcare to individuals with disabilities and their families while seeking personal growth and leadership development to become a dedicated advocate for this community. After completing her Au.D. degree, Eliza has set her sights on embarking on a career in a diagnostic pediatric audiology setting while actively engaging in advocacy efforts to offer essential support and guidance to families navigating the complexities of audiological care for their children.
Yamile Paredes: Yamile is currently a first-year graduate student in the School Psychology master's program at the University of Connecticut. She previously obtained her bachelor's degree in Psychology from Western Connecticut State University in Spring 2023, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. Yamile has previous experience providing support to adults with developmental disabilities in the group home setting, as well as with children and adolescents with developmental disabilities, providing both in-home and school-based services. Additionally, she has volunteered in Early Childhood programs such as Head Start, providing support to the teachers, children, and families that were part of the program. Yamile has also worked as a program assistant in community organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Ridgefield, CT. She has learned valuable lessons from all of these experiences and positions that have ultimately sparked her desire to have a lifelong career in which she can improve education quality and services for diverse learners. She is eager to increase her knowledge of policy, advocacy, and leadership through LEND in order to become a more well-rounded professional capable of offering high-quality services to those with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Caitlin Pichette: Caitlin is a second-year graduate student in the UConn NEAG School of Education Counselor Education and Psychology Program. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development and Family Sciences in 2021 from the University of Connecticut. She spent her gap year working with AmeriCorps to determine her passion for counseling and assisting students age ranges middle and high school levels. She is pursuing the LEND Program with hopes to continue to enhance her knowledge and learn how to advocate and support her future caseload with disabilities. The LEND program will help her connect her knowledge to her role as a future counselor supporting her students' needs. Her passion is to become a school counselor and pursue her licensed practicing counseling license to help clients as well. Caitlin has a twin brother and has studied abroad in Croatia for a summer session.
Adrianna Ramirez: Adrianna is a mother and advocate. She has always served as an advocate for family members with disabilities and special healthcare needs. She also has experience being a caregiver and supporting aging family members with disabilities and other family with intellectual and developmental disabilities and special healthcare needs. As a bilingual individual she has supported her family and members of her community with language access, researching various services to meet their needs and has experience in mentoring through her coaching background. For the majority of her life, she has been championing for her family members’ medical needs and researching community resources. Adrianna is passionate about arming families with resources, skills and tools to empower them as advocates for their loved ones as well as becoming parent leaders in their communities.
Kimberly Richmond: Kimberly is a second-year graduate student in the Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology master’s program at the University of Connecticut. She obtained her B.A. in International Studies with a concentration in Latin America from Central Connecticut State University in 2018. Post-graduation, she worked for an insurance company in the disability department prior to switching careers in 2021 to become a college access advisor and work in public high schools. Kimberly is a recipient of the 2023 National Board-Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Award for the Master’s Mental Health Counselors. Her experiences of working in the public school system reinforced her decision to switch careers and work with a diverse population of adolescents. Presently, she is interning as a school counselor at a public high school in the Hartford area. As a future school counselor, she values the importance of providing equal support to all students, advocating for them, and educating others when working with students with visible and non-visible disabilities. She has an interest in working with students with disabilities because this specific population is underrepresented and needs additional support and services. Her involvement in the CT LEND program will help her achieve her professional short-term and long-term goals. It will give her further exposure and will help her develop and refine skills that will facilitate her experience in succeeding as a culturally aware inclusive counselor who understands how the systems affect this specific population and understands how to appropriately intervene.
Megan Rosen: Megan is a first-year master’s student in the School Psychology program at the University of Connecticut. She graduated from High Point University in 2022 with a double major in Psychology and Education Policy Studies. Megan has spent the past year working as a classroom behavior specialist in a high-intensity behavior school where she often worked to provide 1:1 support to students in the K-3 classroom. Megan has worked with a wide variety of children, including those diagnosed with ASD, ODD, and more. Time in this position is what inspired Megan to be a part of LEND, as she wants to increase her knowledge and skills for working with children with disabilities. Megan also spends her summers working as a camp coordinator in her hometown where she works to make summer camp accessible and fun for children with special needs. She is passionate about inclusion as well as teacher well-being and burnout.
McLaine Rutan: McLaine is in her second year in the Clinical Doctorate of Audiology program at the University of Connecticut. She obtained her B.S. in Communication Disorders from Southern Connecticut State University in 2021. Throughout high school, McLaine participated in a soccer program for athletes with neurodevelopmental differences which originally sparked her interest in working with this population. Her clinical interests are in diagnostic Audiology and cochlear implants. Upon completion of the LEND program, McLaine hopes she will have more knowledge and skills to be a better clinician and advocate to provide a higher level of care to patients with neurodevelopmental and related disabilities. She is also looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about other disciplines that work with Audiologists as members of a patients’ healthcare team. Outside of school, McLaine loves to cook and bake!
Caroline Schreck: Caroline is currently completing her second and final year of UConn’s Social Work master’s program specializing in Individuals, Groups, and Families. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2022 with a B.A. in Psychology. Last year, Caroline interned with Guilford Public Schools at the elementary level. She is currently interning at Clifford Beers Community Mental Health Clinic in New Haven as an outpatient clinician. Caroline chose to be a part of LEND because she has a particular interest in working with kids with disabilities in the future. Outside of school or work, Caroline enjoys reading on the beach and spending time with family and friends.
Jaylynne Thomas: Jaylynne is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut in her third year of the Clinical Doctorate of Audiology program. She received her Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Nova Southeastern University in 2021. She is excited to be a part of the LEND program to learn skills to provide the best quality of healthcare for people with disabilities and their families. She hopes to pursue a career as a pediatric audiologist, working collaboratively toward patient-centered care for her patients. Jaylynne has two dogs, and their names are Nala and Roo.
Lucas Vander Ploeg: Lucas is a first-year Ph.D. student in the School Psychology department at the University of Connecticut. He previously graduated with a B.A in Psychology and a minor in Special Education Studies from Calvin University. In his studies, he had the opportunity to work with a student with ASD in an inclusive college learning environment. Also, he interned at the Helen Devos Children's Hospital’s Autism Clinic, observing, and participating in an interdisciplinary diagnostic process. In the future, he hopes to become a school psychologist at the middle school level, using the information and skills he learned from LEND to advocate for families and students with neurodevelopmental disabilities. He also hopes to provide opportunities for extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs. In his free time, he enjoys running, reading books, and singing in acapella groups and barbershop quartets.
Julie-Ann Williams: Julie-Ann is a first-year student in the Master of Public Health Program at the University of Connecticut. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Cognitive Science and a minor in Psychological Sciences, which she obtained from the same institution in 2023. Following her undergraduate studies, Julie-Ann immediately embarked on a career at a local health department.
Julie-Ann's academic and professional interests are centered around health administration and addressing healthcare disparities. Her commitment to these areas of public health led her to the CT LEND program, where she is gaining valuable insights into disabilities and the inequities prevalent in healthcare for children with disabilities. Julie-Ann envisions a future where she can leverage the knowledge acquired from the CT LEND program to advocate for and drive meaningful change in the field of public health administration. Julie-Ann loves reading in the comfort of an enclosed patio, enjoying her books without the hassle of bugs.
Oksana Yavdoshnyak: Oksana is a registered nurse at UConn Health. She was born in the United States but spent most of her life in Ukraine. She moved back to the States when she was 15 in pursuit of higher education with a desire to work in the healthcare industry. She followed in the footsteps of her mother, who was a nurse back in Ukraine. She has always wanted to help those in need, and support and advocate for them.