University wins $3.7M from feds
A university in the region has been awarded $3.7 million from the feds for a specialized department at its health care college.
Four personnel training grants from the U.S. Department of Education were recently given to Western Michigan University’s Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies in an effort to fill a shortage of specialists working with people who have vision problems.
WMU said the grants will go toward the training of orientation and mobility specialists, vision rehabilitation therapists, rehabilitation counselors and teachers of visually impaired children.
"Each one of our graduates affects a whole lot of people," said Dr. James Leja, chairman of the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies, WMU. "It has a nice, cascading effect. There's a huge shortage of professionals in all of these areas."
WMU said the department is one of the oldest of its kind and "produces more specialties" in blindness and low vision "than any other institution in the world."
"We've historically seen, in all the years that we've been around, that many individuals with visual impairments have unmet needs, in part because of the challenges of producing enough qualified graduates to get out there and provide services," Leja said. "So the need has always been huge. Obviously, we're very happy about the grants."
The grants are highly competitive awards that universities can apply for every five years, according to Leja.
The funding cycles synced up with the school's applications, which were fully funded this year.
"They all hit at the same time," Leja said. "So this happened to be, if you will, that perfect, positive storm. This creates a strong foundation for our five departmental programs over the next five years."