Colleen Thoma, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Counseling and Special Education

Colleen Thoma, Ph.D.


  • Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction/special education, Indiana University
  • B.A. in interdisciplinary social sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo

Research interests

Thoma’s research interests focus on supporting the transition from school to adult life for students with disabilities: in particular, students with intellectual disability. She has addressed this research area in multiple ways: by focusing on supporting student self-determination in the process, by identifying how to apply a universal design for learning process to meet both academic and transition goals, and by preparing teachers to support the development of student self-determination.

Career highlights

  • Was named a Ruderman Policy Fellow in 2014, and worked with the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination on disability policy related to transition services for youth with disabilities receiving social security benefits (SSI/SSDI). Read the policy brief from this work [PDF].
  • Received the Oliver P. Kolstoe Award for achievement in transition, from Division on Career Development and Transition in 2013
  • Received the Mary Switzer Distinguished Research Fellowship in 2011 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to study postsecondary education and transition for students with intellectual disability.
  • Received Positive Approaches Award recognition from TASH, a disability advocacy organization, in 1999 for contributions toward public policy in support of positive behavioral approaches in the passage of legislation AB 280, which prohibits the use of aversive procedures in Nevada.

Recent publications/projects

  • Led the Education Strand of the National Goals Conference on Intellectual Disability, which examined the current state of education for children, youth and young adults with intellectual disability and identified goals for the next decade. Products from each strand included a chapter for the National Goals book, a policy brief, and an article for the e-journal Inclusion.
  • Served as project director and principal investigator for a leadership training project funded by the U.S. Department of Education aimed to prepare future special education faculty who are research to policy advocates. This project will provide funding for two cohorts of 10 scholars in the doctoral program at VCU. For more information about this project, watch an informational webinar or download the presentation slides [PDF].
  • Leading a research team investigating the involvement of students with intellectual disabilities in extracurricular activities with Drs. Martin Agran, Cindi Nixon, Ron Tamura, Edwin Achola and Kira Austin and two current doctoral students: Irina Cain and Andy Wojcik.


Dr. Colleen Thoma is a nationally recognized leader in the area of self-determination and transition planning, particularly focusing on the preparation of teachers and related services personnel to facilitate self-determined transition planning for students with disabilities.

Thoma is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Council for Exceptional Children (including Division on Career Development and Transition, Division for Teacher Education, Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities, and Division on Research) and TASH. Thoma is a past president of the Division on Career Development and Transition of the Council for Exceptional Children and was a member of the executive board of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Thoma was a recent Ruderman Family Policy Fellow, working with the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, and was named a fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. She received the Distinguished Research Award from the School of Education at VCU, and serves on the editorial boards of several special education journals.

Curriculum Vitae

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