Shalece Kohnke, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in exceptional education, is one of 15 scholars nationwide named a 2022 DRK-12 (Discovery Research PreK-13) U.S. National Science Foundation CADRE Fellow.

The Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE) fellowship program, funded by the NSF, provides professional growth opportunities for students whose work focuses on diversity, inclusion, equity and justice in PreK-12 STEM education. Participating in the program allows students to learn more about what it takes to be successful in the field, familiarizes them with NSF practices, and provides them with a network of researchers across the nation. To date, only three other UCF students have ever been named CADRE Fellows.

Being selected has special meaning to Kohnke because she knows first-hand the struggles some students go through in school. She has dyslexia, dysgraphia (difficulty putting thoughts on paper), dyscalculia (difficulty completing basic arithmetic), ADHD, and central auditory processing disorder. She keenly remembers what her K-12 education was like, which is the reason she decided to become a teacher. Then, as an educator, she also found challenges in reaching her students.

Shalece Kohnke
Shalece Kohnke is one of 15 scholars nationwide named a 2022 Discovery Research PreK-13 U.S. National Science Foundation CADRE Fellow.

“I’m honored,” she says. “Being a CADRE fellow will give me national experiences and knowledge to help me attain my passionate goal of making science outcomes accessible for individuals with disabilities.”

Education Professor Lisa Dieker nominated Kohnke for the fellowship and encouraged her to go after the award. Dieker has gotten to know Kohnke through the program and has co-taught courses together. Kohnke’s work and passion have also led to co-publishing their research in academic journals.

“Shalece has been a huge asset to our UCF team, and I cannot wait to see the continued contribution she will make to the field,” says Dieker. “Her passion for research and her ability to translate that research into practice to ensure the best outcomes for students with disabilities in science is critical to the future employability and outcomes for this population.”

Before coming to UCF, Kohnke worked as a high school special education teacher in Kentucky. She struggled to find a program that fit her interests and had no clue how she would even afford one until she found UCF’s exceptional education doctoral program. After learning about the university, the quality of the program and all the financial support offered, she decided to take a chance. She quit her job, sold her house and moved across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue her passion.

It was the right move for Kohnke, who loves the diverse environment at UCF and appreciates the inclusivity of her program, she says.

“Never in my professional or post-secondary educational career have I been amongst so many individuals with disabilities, and who proudly disclose them,” she says. “I have learned so much from their experiences, expertise, and the examples they set. I am proud to be a Knight and in the exceptional education track.”

Kohnke’s goal is to improve science outcomes, both academic and professional, for secondary students with disabilities. She plans to do this by increasing access to science content. Because of her personal experience as a student and a classroom teacher, she knows she can help bridge the gap.

“I strive to help current and future students with disabilities, along with their teachers, so all students, regardless of disability, have access to education,” she says.