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Professor wins distinguished award from international higher education and disability association

Lyman Dukes III

Lyman Dukes III is a professor of special education at USF’s St. Petersburg campus and a leading expert on students with disabilities and their transition into higher education.

USF Professor of Education Lyman Dukes III has received the Ronald E. Blosser Dedicated Service Award from the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD).

The award is given to an individual for extraordinary dedication and service to the leading association for individuals committed to improving the inclusion of people with disabilities in higher education and beyond. It is one of AHEAD’s two highest honors.

“I am both humbled and honored,” said Dukes, who is based on USF’s St. Petersburg campus. “There are many talented and kind professionals that make up the field of higher education and disability. I'm genuinely appreciative of the recognition by my professional peers.”

Dukes received the award for his leadership and efforts over the last three years in updating the association’s professional standards, program standards and code of ethics. This involved modernizing foundational documents to reflect current best practices, new laws and technology for accessibility and changes in societal attitudes about disability.

Dukes has been a professor of special education at USF’s St. Petersburg campus for the past 20 years and a leading expert on students with disabilities and their transition into higher education.

He credits an experience as an elementary student with greatly influencing his career path.

“While in elementary school at Shore Acres Elementary here in St. Petersburg I had a transformative experience with a fellow student who had developmental disabilities,” Dukes explained. “He joined our 4th grade class early in the school year and the class teacher asked me to serve as his ‘mentor.’ I learned at a young age that people with disabilities had the same goals as any other child, that is, to have friends, to learn and to have fun.”

He is currently co-principal investigator of the UMatter program, which provides young people with intellectual disabilities the learning, social skills and career training to set them up to be competitively employed and live independently. Through support from professional staff and mentors on USF’s St. Petersburg campus, these students are navigating the transition from high school to college, acquiring skills in socialization and independent living and experiencing professional training through internships. Scholarship funds up to $7,000 are available to eligible students to cover tuition, housing, fees and other expenses.

The first cohort of the program began this academic year with an inaugural class of seven students on campus. The program will welcome a new class of up to 10 students in each of the following years.

“It’s about providing the same kind of adult life opportunities that any other individual would want in our society,” Dukes was quoted as saying when the program received an initial grant of $900,000 in 2020. “There has been this misperception that people with these disabilities do not have the aptitude to learn. But we now know and the data clearly indicate that young people that participate in these types of programs are employed at much greater rates, earn higher salaries, live independently more often and have a better quality of life.” 

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