About Us

Debra Hart

Director, Education and Transition Team
Doctoral, ABD Heller Graduate School of Advanced Studies
M.S. Special Education, Consulting Teacher

office: 617-590-8082

Debra is the Director of Education and Transition at the Institute for Community Inclusion and has over 30 years of experience working with youth and adults with disabilities, their families, faculty, and professionals who support students in secondary and postsecondary education and competitive employment during their transition years. Over the past 18 years, Ms. Hart has directed 20 federal grants related to transition for students with disabilities including the Massachusetts Transition Initiative, the College Career Connection, Project FOCUS, the Worcester Youth College Career Connection, the Quinsigamond Community College Project of National Significance, the Center for the Study of Postsecondary Education Supports, the Equity & Excellence in Higher Education for Students with Disabilities, MA FOCUS Academy (OSEP State Professional Development Grant), and an OSEP-funded Research & Innovation Project (www.ThinkCollege.net) that focused on supporting transition-aged students with intellectual disabilities (SWID) in inclusive postsecondary education (PSE) options.

Debra is currently the principal investigator for 3 transition-related grants: 1) Center on Postsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, 2) a National Consortium on Postsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, designed to grow inclusive postsecondary education options nationwide, and 3) National Coordinating Center designed to evaluate, provide training and technical assistance (TTA), and coordinate Transition Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.

Debra has also co-authored a book on postsecondary education options for students with intellectual disabilities and published articles on various transition topics. She has extensive experience providing training and technical assistance on transition, collaboration and team building, resource mapping and alignment of resources, and inclusive postsecondary education for SWID.

Maria Paiewonsky

Program Manager, Education and Transition Team
Ed.D., Leadership In Urban Schools, Concentration in Special Education and Disability Policy
M.Ed., Special Education, Certification in Severe Special Needs

office: 617-287-7697

Maria is a program manager and transition specialist at the Institute for Community Inclusion and Director of the Massachusetts Transition Leadership Initiative, a personnel preparation program that prepares Master's Level Transition Specialists at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Maria has coordinated numerous secondary, transition, and dual enollment related projects and works with teachers, interdisciplinary team members, students and families to develop positive transition outcomes from school to adult life. This includes online course development and teaching, as well as face-to-face training and technical assistance on transition and postsecondary topics.

At the student level, Maria has a particular interest in assisting high school students and young adults with intellectual disabilities to articulate their perceptions and concerns of the transition process from high school to college and work. This inclusive research work involves person-centered planning and teaching youth to use multiple media formats such as photovoice, digital and video stories and story mapping to communicate their own transition knowledge and expertise.

Nancy Hurley

Education and Transition Specialist, Education and Transition Team
M.S., Education

office: 617-287-4310

Nancy is an education and transition specialist with the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. She has been working with individuals with disabilities in school, community, and residential settings for more than 30 years. Nancy is the project manager, co-developer, and lead instructor for the transition-related courses that ICI provides through the Massachusetts Focus Academy (MFA). These graduate-level professional development courses that are offered to Massachusetts public and approved private school teachers, administrators, and related professionals in order to increase and strengthen their knowledge of transition-related practices for students with disabilities. Nancy has developed and conducted numerous trainings in the area of transition, person-centered planning, access to postsecondary education, youth development, career development, resource mapping, curriculum adaptation, differentiated instruction, alternate assessment, and instructional aide development.


Stelios Gragoudas

Youth Development Specialist, Education and Transition Team
Ed.D., Special Education
M.S., Rehabilitation Counseling


Stel is a youth development and self-determination specialist at the Institute for Community Inclusion who has over 20 years of experience working in disabilities, with a primary focus on special education, specifically on improving postsecondary outcomes for students with intellectual disabilities. His research examines how teaching self-determination and leadership skills in secondary school settings can improve transition outcomes for students with disabilities. In his current position, he develops and delivers online professional development, addressing various transition-related issues such as self-determination and youth leadership, general transition topics, career development, and postsecondary education for SWDs. In addition he is a co-researcher on a project that assists youth with disabilities and special health care needs to attend postsecondary institutions. Dr. Gragoudas is on the executive board of the Division of Career Development and Transition (DCDT), a division of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). He is also on various state agency advisory boards concerning youth with disabilities. He also brings a consumer perspective to all of his work as he is a gentleman with a disability.

Lori Cooney 

Universal Design Specialist, Education and Transition Team
M.Ed., Technology in Education
B.S., Science and Speech

mobile: 508-801-6382

Lori Cooney is a project coordinator and universal instructional design specialist at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Lori directs grant activities for Future Quest Island, an online, fully accessible college and career readiness adventure for middle school students funded by the federal Office of Special Education Programs. Prior to joining ICI, Lori served as an instructional designer at a postsecondary institution. She has also served as a coordinator of technology integration at the secondary level and is an active MassCUE (Massachusetts Computer Using Educator) special interest group (SIG) member. Lori has over 15 years of extensive experience in designing and delivering professional development for educators. Her key topic areas are instructional resources, universal instructional design, inclusive educational practices, individualized learning plans, curriculum development, course redesign, technology integration, and assessment strategies for students.  Lori holds a Master of Education in Instructional Technology from Lesley University and a Bachelor of Science in Speech from Emerson College. Additionally, Lori is a STAR Discovery Educator, is a recipient of a WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) Technology Humanist award and is recognized by Framingham State University as a Christa McAuliffe Teacher.