Professor Peña joins national autism panel

In the summer of 2015, California Lutheran University Associate Professor in Educational Leadership Edlyn Peña, was appointed to serve on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a congressionally mandated committee that works with the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services to review research and services for people with autism.

Peña will serve a four year term on the committee and will travel to Washington D.C. multiple times a year to discuss and make recommendations on autism-related programs.

Peña, who researches autism-related topics and has a son on the autism spectrum disorder, is ready to go to work for the autistic community.

“As an educator I’m really excited to be apart of a national conversation and contribute ideas and recommendations, specifically for supporting students with autism in colleges and university,” Peña said. “On a personal level, I’m excited to be involved in this effort because of course it means that I’m helping to make changes, not only nationally but locally in terms of preparing colleges for my son. My son will one day be a college student, so I’m excited I get to be a part of that change and make positive contributions so that when he gets to college he can feel supported,” Peña said.

Peña said most of her research revolves around post-secondary higher education, how universities can better be equipped to aid students with autism and around making sure that colleges are equipped to help students who have communicative challenges.

“I definitely have reported some of my research findings to the committee and I will plan to do that in the future so that they’re aware of the latest in emerging research that is out there about college students with autism,” Peña said. “There are very few researchers in the United States who focus on college students with autism and how to support them, so I think I bring that unique voice to the committee.”

Diane Rodriguez-Kiino, associate professor of Educational Leadership at Cal Lutheran, said she believes Peña more than deserved the appointment.

“I am exceptionally honored for Edlyn. I think that, not only does she work really hard in the field of autism and higher education and how to better support students with autism, the award is really well deserved. But you mix that with a significant level of passion that Edlyn has for the field and I think they picked by far the best person to represent this community with the health and human services secretary,” Rodriguez-Kiino said.

Peña will bring her specific view of the autism community and higher education to the committee and will work to make sure universities become better equipped to provide equal opportunities to those with developmental disabilities.

“I come from a social justice framework in the way that I think about all college students. I think all college students should have equal opportunities, equal access to resources, and some students who have different varying levels of abilities do need extra resources or support in order to level the playing field in terms of them participating in college,” Peña said.

Wendy Jimenez, Disability Support Services coordinator at Cal Lutheran, has worked with Peña on disability related subjects before and believes she will help bring a greater understanding to the Cal Lutheran campus about the autistic community.

“I have had the opportunity to do a few presentations with Dr. Peña regarding supporting those with Autism spectrum, and she is a valuable expert when it comes to explaining some of the possible challenges both the individual with the disability may face as well as any challenges others may face when trying to create an environment of equality,” Jimenez said.

As Peña begins her time on the committee she said she looks forward to being a part of a national conversation about autism, as well as bringing her unique perspective from Cal Lutheran to the table.

“I would just say it’s a big honor to be on this committee because it is a congressionally mandated committee and I am the only person on the committee that is representing a small liberal arts college like Cal Lutheran,” Peña said. “There’s people on there who are affiliated with Harvard and Princeton, so it was very exciting and intimidating to be apart of that conversation but it’s really great to bring that visibility to CLU by being part of this national congressional committee.”

Hailey Klemenok
Staff Writer
Published December 9th, 2015