Kilgo’s longtime dedication to interdisciplinary education provides ‘invaluable, real-world experience’

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kilgo insideUniversity Professor Jennifer Kilgo, Ph.D.University Professor Jennifer Kilgo, Ph.D., is a passionate Blazer who began her work in early childhood special education at UAB in 1995, says that much of the work she has done during the past 25 years was made possible only because of the unique environment UAB offers.

“The purpose of my career has been to develop interprofessional education opportunities, and UAB has allowed me to work with some of the best professionals from across disciplines and put together teams to prepare students from multiple disciplines — from occupational therapy, physical therapy, early childhood special education and more,” Kilgo explained.

In more than two decades at UAB, Kilgo has earned a reputation as a dedicated and exceptional educator. This year she is the recipient of the 2020 Ellen Gregg Ingalls/UAB National Alumni Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Teaching, presented annually to a full-time UAB faculty member who, throughout their career at UAB, has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to teaching.

To receive the award — the highest award for teaching presented by UAB — the faculty member must be a former recipient of the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching and have served UAB for 20 or more years as a full-time regular faculty member. Kilgo will be recognized during the annual Faculty Convocation to be conducted virtually Dec. 1.

“UAB has allowed me to work with some of the best professionals from across disciplines and put together teams to prepare students from multiple disciplines.”

“Throughout Dr. Kilgo’s extensive and notable career as an educator, she has equally demonstrated excellence with her research, publications and writings, ability to develop and lead the early intervention and early childhood special education program and nationally recognized Project TransTeam program and grants,” wrote a nominator. “I am simply unable to fully convey the immense measurable impact Dr. Kilgo has made during her career as an educator and passionate advocate for children with disabilities and their families.”

Working together

Young children with developmental delays or disabilities often rely on a team of professionals to teach them to walk, talk, read or conduct other daily tasks. But often, the members of those teams — early interventionists and early childhood special educators, physical and occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists — don’t learn to rely on each other until they are on the job.

Kilgo used to ask herself this question: If students must work as a team in the future, why not learn as a team? She answered it by developing Project TransTeam in the early 2000s, a graduate program that brings together early childhood special education students with School of Health Professions physical and occupational therapy students. As a group, they discover the power of collaboration and gain the skills to build connections between disciplines.

“Project TransTeam and the federally funded grants associated with this program are the focus of what I do,” Kilgo said. “We are collecting data, researching our model and preparing graduate students.”

“How do we switch from face-to-face to a hybrid model while still bringing multiple disciplines together?”

This past year has proved interesting as the programs adapted to virtual learning, she added.

“How do we switch from face-to-face to a hybrid model while still bringing together multiple disciplines? We’ve been able to do it beautifully by involving professionals and families of children with disabilities from the community in using Zoom.”

Continuing to connect with communities despite challenges raised by the pandemic has been key, she continued — without community support, graduate students cannot be effectively prepared to enter the workforce.

“We’re able to work with programs such as Mitchell’s Place, the Rise Center in Tuscaloosa, United Ability and the Bell Center here in Birmingham and multiple school systems,” Kilgo explained. “UAB has encouraged us to be a part of not just the Birmingham community, but [work] statewide and nationally as well.”

A collaborative legacy

Kilgo, who has published dozens of articles in peer-reviewed publications and authored or co-authored seven books and more than a dozen book chapters, is known to colleagues and students for what one nominator called her “expansive collaborative professional work in teaching, research, and service,” which “exemplifies her cross-disciplinary approach to provide effective and comprehensive services for young children with disabilities in the community and globally.”

“This invaluable, real-world experience builds a strong knowledge and skills base in students and professionals to ensure quality care for children needing early childhood special education.”

Kilgo says her focus on working closely with others is something that long has been fostered by UAB’s collaborative environment, which has grown during the years. In 2013, Kilgo received the Sam Brown Bridge Builder Award, which recognizes faculty who engage in interdisciplinary, collaborative efforts across campus in ways that embody the vision, character and bridge-building talents vital to the future of UAB.

“I’ve seen growth in the way in which UAB encourages collaboration,” Kilgo said. “Team-based courses are emphasized so much.”

Through Kilgo’s transdisciplinary approach to education, wrote a nominator, UAB students have been given a unique educational opportunity.

“This invaluable, real-world experience builds a strong knowledge and skills base in students and professionals to ensure quality care for children needing early intervention and early childhood special education services,” the nominator explained.