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MSU Profiles

Another lifetime love revealed

When the newlywed "came to North Dakota in 1985 with her brand new husband and her brand new degree," the Brooklyn, Ohio, native discovered another lifetime love. Lori Garnes, associate professor of special education and the associate director of the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities, became dedicated to the special education field.

Garnes' brand new Bachelor of Science in Education was from Bowling Green State University. She worked with individuals with intellectual disabilities as a residential supervisor for Kalix for eight years. In 1996, she completed a master's degree from Minot State University and knew a special education adjunct position was open. She called Brent Askvig, who then chaired the Department of Special Education, and he hired her. For three years she taught as an adjunct and also worked at NDCPD.

"Dr. Garnes has had a huge impact, not only in acquiring the TRiO funding in the 1990s, but in so much of what we do for NDCPD," said Askvig, current NDCPD executive director. "Further, she is involved with so many good activities around the state. In addition to being full time at NDCPD, she is a special education faculty member, who advises 25 students."

In Title III competition for TRiO funding, NDCPD submitted the grant proposal "Strengthening MSU by Reaching Rural Communities." It was approved for a five-year span. Bryce Fifield, NDCPD executive director, supervised the online program.

"This grant launched the beginning efforts of online courses for Minot State and its partner Dakota College," Garnes said. "They worked with all of the high schools across the state to get them wired in so that kids could come out of high school ready to learn in an online environment. MSU was the pioneer in online education for North Dakota."

Garnes earned her doctorate in special education and distance technologies at Utah State University, which houses NDCPD's parent Center for Persons with Disabilities, because of Minot State's Grow Your Own program. MSU kept positions open for participating faculty members, who were given three years, without pay, to secure their terminal degrees. She returned to MSU in 2004 into a tenure-track, full-time faculty positon. In addition to teaching, she chaired the special education department from 2005 to 2008.

As NDCPD's associate director, Garnes primarily writes grant proposals, but she has other responsibilities. She facilitates between schools and families of children with disabilities when there are difficulties between the two sides. She works with the Department of Public Instruction to help it develop new guidelines for teachers working with students with behavior disorders. Garnes also assists the N.D. Council for Disabilities on its five-year plan for grant proposal submissions. In addition, she represents NDCPD on a taskforce to examine policies related to seclusion and restraint procedures for youth with disabilities in the schools.

"I have a confession. I have the best, most exciting job in the world," Garnes said. "My job is to talk to really smart people from all over the campus, the state and country who care about people with disabilities and listen to all of the new, creative things that should be done. Then, I get to write the proposal to get it funded. I write proposals and contracts, and I put people together. My job is to figure out what is the next best thing and write for the funding. We get it and move on to the next exciting thing."

During Garnes' career, wonderful changes have improved the lives of people with disabilities. For example, awareness resulted from the passage of Rosa's Law, which President Barack Obama signed on Oct. 5. 2010. The legislation requires the federal government to replace the term "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability" in statue and areas of government.

"I think the awareness and sensitivity we have has really permeated everything Americans do," Garnes said. "Young university students are not understanding that at one time people were placed into institutions for having a physical disability or just being a little bit different. They are saying 'You old people did what? That's crazy — you can't put people into an institution like that!' Everyone's expectations are so different and so much more appropriate."

In young people, Garnes holds great faith.

"We should all embrace and celebrate the diversity around us," Garnes said.