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Doctoral Student Named 2016 Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation Public Policy Fellow

February 23, 2016

Kimberly Knackstedt, a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education, was named as the 2016 Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation Public Policy Fellow in December. The prestigious fellowship is awarded annually to just one recipient. Knackstedt, one of the youngest recipients of the fellowship, moved to Washington, D.C., in January to begin her year with the Foundation.

The Public Policy Fellowship will allow Knackstedt to “learn how federal legislation is initiated, developed, and passed by the Congress, as well as how programs are administered and regulations promulgated by federal agencies,” according to the Foundation. The Foundation works with recipients to determine where their interests are and what setting will best meet their needs. “I was able to interview with several different Senators’ offices and really got to have a voice to say that I would like to be on the Hill versus in a department or a non-profit,” said Knackstedt.

Knackstedt will work with the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, under ranking member Senator Patty Murray (D - WA). Fellow Jayhawk Jake Cornett, KU SOE alumnus (M.S.E., 2010), former Public Policy Fellow, and senior advisor for Murray on the committee, is her colleague. “We have our KU pride!” said Knackstedt.

“I hope to get a better understanding of the political system and the negotiations between good policy and good politics and how we can better support individuals with disabilities across the lifespan through legislation. I’ve been on the implementation level of things (as a teacher), and then on the state level at the Kansas State Department of Education, so I’d really like a better understanding of how everything works at the federal level. I hope that I’ll be able to be a strong voice for individuals with disabilities and work to support education as the avenue toward successful life for all individuals, working for more equity and access,” said Knackstedt. “I’m looking beyond just education, focusing on health, and workforce and labor,” she continues, “looking at the whole continuum of services that could be provided.”

Knackstedt started her career in special education as an elementary teacher in the Blue Valley, Kansas, School District in 2010. She moved to a classroom in the Kansas City, Kansas, district for a year and then transitioned to the Turner schools to “take over their self-contained emotional and behavioral disorder classroom and try to assist the students in a more inclusive setting,” she notes.

During her two years at Turner, she earned a master’s degree from the KU School of Education where she worked with Sean Smith (professor, Special Education), focusing on the use of technology to provide services to individuals with low incidence disabilities.

Faculty members in the department suggested she enter the doctoral program. Knackstedt worked with Rud Turnbull, Marianna and Ross Beach Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Special Education, on issues surrounding the use of seclusion and restraint. Her focus on that topic continued at the Kansas State Department of Education where she supported implementation of Kansas legislation on Emergency Safety Interventions (ESI), aimed at limiting the use of seclusion and restraint for all students in Kansas schools.

Knackstedt credits Turnbull for planting the idea of applying for the Public Policy Fellowship early in her doctoral studies. Tom Skrtic, Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Special Education, her current advisor, also encouraged her to pursue the position. “Tom really supported me the last couple of years to get everything ready for the application.”

Knackstedt’s future plans include completing her fellowship and doctoral dissertation, which centers on seclusion and restraint policies. After that, she says, “I hope to stay in D.C., in the policy making area, ideally here on the Hill, or with an organization that has impact on legislation that happens.” Her selection as a Fellow, moving to D.C., and reporting for work with the Committee all happened in less than a month. It’s been an intense time, she admits, but notes, “It’s fun to be jumping right in and writing legislation.”

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