Risk propels Michael T. Gamel-McCormick, Ph.D., toward success. “My approach to my career has always been to take risks and to not remain comfortable,” he says. “I believe growth and change happen only when you move outside your comfort zone.”
Following this philosophy has enabled Gamel-McCormick to effect profound change for children and others with disabilities. Among his accomplishments: establishing an inclusive child care center, consulting with the Dubai government to create a newborn screening program and collaborating on a Senate bill to advance disabilities rights, which President Obama signed into law.
“The law reauthorizes the Rehabilitation Act and provides resources to help youth with disabilities prepare for competitive, integrated employment,” explains Gamel-McCormick, associate executive director for research and policy for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.
He served from 2010-14 as the education policy adviser for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and as the senator’s disability policy director. In the latter capacity, he wrote a report on the dangerous use in schools of restraints on children, especially children with disabilities, which was accompanied by legislation to prohibit the measures.
In honor of Gamel-McCormick’s commitment to advancing disabilities rights, Harkin wrote a tribute that was published in the Congressional Record: “Throughout his career, Michael has worked to improve the lives of children and other people with disabilities. And because of his work, countless individuals with disabilities will work, live, laugh and flourish in their communities alongside friends, colleagues and neighbors.”
“VCU recognizes that to be great, an institution must serve its neighbors.”
Before joining Senate staff, Gamel-McCormick was a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies for 17 years, dean of the College of Education and Public Policy, and director of the Center for Disabilities Studies, all at the University of Delaware.
Early in his career, Gamel-McCormick worked as an adjunct instructor for the VCU School of Education and as coordinator of the early childhood special education technical assistance center. He says the knowledge and passion expressed by the school’s faculty impressed him and encouraged him to enroll in the Ph.D. program.
“I value VCU for its diversity and its grounding in the community,” he says. “So called ‘excellent universities’ often ignore their immediate communities. VCU recognizes that to be great, an institution must serve its neighbors and its region and use the knowledge gained and the personnel trained to improve the lives of those that surround it.”
In this same vein, Gamel-McCormick shares his expertise to benefit others. He’s provided technical assistance to early childhood and early intervention programs throughout the nation and in five countries, is co-author of “Young Children with Special Needs: A Developmentally Appropriate Approach” and has published articles on inclusion, family-centered care and interdisciplinary teamwork.