Faculty News

Rune Simeonsson funded for Phase 3 of Transatlantic Consortium
First Transatlantic Fellow arrives from Sweden

A $180,000, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) has funded the third phase of the Transatlantic Consortium in Early Childhood Intervention, directed in the United States by Professor Rune Simeonsson since 2001. Over the next four years, 48 graduate students from five universities in the United States and Europe will undergo extended study in other countries and earn a graduate Concentration in Global Education and Developmental Studies.

Jointly funded by the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Union, the consortium is part of the European Union-United States Atlantis Program, which supports collaborative initiatives to develop programs of study leading to joint graduate or undergraduate credits and degrees.  

Margareta Adolfsson, the first Transatlantic Fellow in Phase 3, arrived in August to begin a semester of study at UNC- Chapel Hill under Simeonsson’s direction. A doctoral student in disability research at her home university in Sweden, Adolfsson has worked as a physical therapist for children and as a quality coordinator for habilitation services in one county. She wants to earn the Concentration in Global Education and Developmental Studies because she is interested in expanding her experiences of teamwork and interdisciplinary assessments in serving children with disabilities.

“I’m a curious person,” said Adolfsson. “I have been interested in the work that is done here for so many years ─ the ICF-CY for example [International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health for Children and Youth] and Rune’s work. Also I really wanted to learn English better. It was not a hard decision at all.”

Since its first funding in 2001, the Transatlantic Consortium has worked internationally to improve policy, practice, research and services for young children with special needs and their families, and to foster exchanges of students with common interests in support and services for children.

The consortium has received recognition from both the United States and Europe as an exemplary initiative. FIPSE has identified it as an “exemplary project for review” and the European Commission has recognized it as an example of “best practices.”

During Phase 1 from 2001-2005, the consortium consisted of partner universities in Portugal, Germany, Finland, Sweden and the United States. Students from these universities engaged in short-term international exchanges and pursued individual study experiences ranging from two weeks to two months in length.  

In Phase 2 from 2006-2008, the consortium faculty focused on the development of an international curriculum for implementation by the partner universities.

Simeonsson noted that the Bologna Agreement in Europe had a positive impact on the faculty’s work during this time. “After 2000, the European Union countries began working to establish consistent standards for baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees,” he said. “This was an important accomplishment for Europe. Previously it was hard to equate higher education programs or transfer credits among European countries or between Europe and the United States.”

Now in Phase 3, the consortium consists of five university partners — Jönköping University in Sweden, Porto University in Portugal, Ludwig-Maximilians University in Germany, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt University in the United States. As one of 24 European students and 24 American students, Adolfsson will complete the graduate Concentration by fulfilling requirements at her home university and then spending a semester at a partner institution abroad.  

At her home university, she has completed two graduate courses ─ one in research methods and another in global issues in education and development. The semester abroad requirements include an independent study, seminars, interactive experiences with the host country’s language and culture, and a field placement. After all requirements are completed, she will earn an 18-credit-hour graduate Concentration in Global Education and Developmental Studies.   

Adolfsson was particularly eager to work with Simeonsson and others on the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health for Children and Youth (ICF-CY), a 2007 classification developed by an international team commissioned by the World Health Organization. Simeonsson chaired the group that worked for six years to develop the 376-page classification, which offers a new universal language for describing the characteristics of children and youth that are important to their growth, health and development. It introduces a new way of thinking about disabilities by focusing not on diagnoses but on an individual’s functioning. It shifts the emphasis from the person’s impairment to the person’s abilities.

Adolfsson’s activities this semester include an independent study in which she is working to develop an assessment tool for use in Sweden based on the ICF-CY. She also is auditing three graduate courses: one on families and teams; one on early childhood, intervention and literacy; and one on using SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) to interpret data from schools. For her language and culture requirement, Adolfsson is taking a course for international graduate students on communicating in the American classroom.   

In addition, she is completing a field placement at the Family Support Network, housed in the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine, under the direction of Clinical Professor Irene Zipper. 

Adolfsson says she has found Carolina to be a place of hospitality. “UNC is a large university with many students. It has a very welcoming atmosphere,” she said. “It’s very easy to ask people for support and help, and everyone says, ‘Yes!’ I have had many good experiences already. It is very special to have this opportunity.”

Subsequent to her work here, Adolfsson hopes to implement the newly developed assessment tool in Sweden and educate habilitation professionals there on how to use it. “I think it’s very important to go on implementing the ICF-CY in services for children and youth in Sweden. That’s my mission, in a way,” she said.

“I want to do the research and develop methods to make life better for children and their families. The important thing is to find a way for everyone to ask children about their wishes, to encourage their participation, to find out what their own goals are before the professionals set goals for them. That is what the classification offers us ─ a method to do that.”

Simeonsson and Adolfsson have just returned from the EU-US Annual Project Directors’ Conference in Boston where more than 400 participants from 30 countries represented 60 ongoing projects for education and culture. The programs are directed to undergraduate or graduate students in a wide range of areas. Some examples are programs for engineering, nursing, teaching, law, forest resources and cancer biology. During the conference, the directors of the Transatlantic Consortium in Early Childhood Intervention planned for successful stays for future students at the partner universities.

Simeonsson notes that the work of the Transatlantic Consortium in Early Childhood Intervention is progressing well. “I must say that everything we’ve experienced so far has been positive. Of course, the formal focus is on exchanging ideas and having students and faculty learn from each other, and that’s really important.

“But it’s all those intangible parts – getting to know people, the friendships that develop among students, among faculty ─ these will transcend,” he said. “In an increasingly smaller world, this is so important because for all of us who are trying to do something to improve the lives of children, the more we can talk together, work together, learn from each other, the better it is.”