NYDBC is comprised of a small team that includes the following: Project Director (full-time), three Family Engagement & Outreach Coordinators (one full-time, two part-time, one Spanish-speaking), Project Assistant (full-time) and Principal Investigator (advisory role). Each core staff person brings specific expertise in the field of deafblindness. This grant is under the guidance of USDOE OSEP Project Officer, Eric Caruso.
Susanne Morgan Morrow, MA, CI, CT — Project Director (Full-time)
Susanne (Susie) is the Project Director of the New York DeafBlind Collaborative and is also a nationally certified Sign Language Interpreter and interpreter educator. Susie’s career started working with the DeafBlind adult community at Helen Keller National Center almost 30 years ago. From those direct experiences she then went on to work on the national deafblind project where she worked on various topics, such as self-determination, advocacy, and transition planning for DeafBlind young adults. Throughout her career Susie has had the opportunity to present, interpret and provide coordination services in a wide array of venues for Deaf and DeafBlind people. Her work has been seen at regional, national and international conferences, in higher academia, as well as at countless musical and theatrical performances.
Susie has also been adjunct faculty at Hunter College in the graduate program on Severe/Multiple Disabilities with an annotation in deafblindness and at Montclair State University in the Linguistics department for the American Sign Language major. She has acted as a mentor and trainer in various interpreter education programs and sat on various committees of national organizations. Susie was also the lead developer of the Introduction to Sign Language and Braille module, part of the Open Hands, Open Access intervener module series developed by the National Center on Deaf-Blindness and is also on the review board of the National Intervener Certification E-portfolio (NICE), the accrediting body for candidates pursuing intervener certification. Susie is a national trainer on a multitude of topics related to access and education of individuals who are DeafBlind and interpreting.
Her entire career has focused on creating linkages between the interpreting, Deaf and DeafBlind communities through her various roles, constantly learning the myriad ways to best act as an ally across communities.
Suzanne Chen, Family Engagement & Outreach Coordinator — Lead & Downstate NY (Full-time)
Suzanne Chen is the lead Family Engagement and Outreach Coordinator for the New York DeafBlind Collaborative. She is also a parent of a teenager who is deafblind with CHARGE Syndrome. With NYDBC, Suzanne is responsible for direct outreach and support to families of children who are deafblind throughout New York State. She heads up various family activities, including monthly virtual meetings for parents to connect and share experiences, and provide resources. She also is responsible for leading family conferences and various professional development, in particular within the medical community. Through her family experience she has advocated for her son and has been a part of the special needs and medical communities for over 13 years.
Suzanne also serves on a variety of boards and organizations. Currently she acts as the Secretary of the New York Parent Association for DeafBlind (NYPADB) and is the NY state liaison for the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation. Suzanne is also on the Family Advisory Council for the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital (MSCHONY) as their Communications Director, and serves in other capacities within the hospital such as the Parents as Teachers committee, NICU and PICU committee. Suzanne is also on the Pediatric Experience Collaborative workgroup and DEI subgroup which connects Children’s hospitals nationally to discuss best practices, strategies, and team sharing. She was also a Parent Mentoring Partner (MSHONY) specifically on the Cardiology Department in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Suzanne worked across all levels and departments of the organization providing support, information, and linkages to parents/caregivers of hospitalized children. She currently serves as Co-Vice President, and the Development Committee Chair on the Board of Trustees for the Lexington School and Center for the Deaf in Queens, NY. Suzanne has presented at international, national, statewide and regional conferences and webinars on Parent and Professional partnerships, advocating for families of deafblind children, and transition supports for individuals with complex care needs.
Suzanne strongly believes that knowledge is power and advocacy brings change. She firmly champions the importance and need of families telling their story, building communities and peer to peer support. These philosophies are reflected in how she interacts and engages with families and professionals in order to build critical connections.
Nanci Bentley, Family Engagement & Outreach Coordinator — Western NY (Part-time)
Nanci is a Family Engagement & Outreach Coordinator (FEOC) with NYDBC. Nanci works in collaboration with the other FEOC in order to connect families and increase identification and referral of children with combined hearing and vision loss in New York State, specifically in Western NY. She continues to build her advocacy skills and foster relationships between families, professionals, and agencies. Nanci is passionate about assisting families in navigating the special education process. She finds merit in seeing families find their “voice.”
Nanci is a parent of a child with Pallister Killian Syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder that causes hearing and vision loss along with other opportunities for individual support. She and her family began their journey into special education and care over 12 years ago.
Nanci is a member of Kiwanis Club that creates community events through fundraising that enrich the lives of children and their families. Additionally, she is on the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Rochester Parent Advisory Council to include acting as a parent advisor on the Quality Improvement Team. Additional councils Nanci serves on, Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities Community Advisory Council, Rochester Museum & Science Center Accessibility Council, PrimeCare Individual and Family Advocacy Board, Starbridge Advocate Roundtable. Nanci and her family are co-founders of Inclusion in Motion, an organization working to bring universal design to community playgrounds, to ensure equal access to play.
Nanci has served on the Board of Directors for Ability Partners Foundation (CP Rochester, Happiness House, Rochester Rehabilitation) and the YMCA.
Alexandra Fiallos, Family Engagement & Outreach Coordinator — Spanish (Part-time)
Alexandra is a parent of a young adult who is DeafBlind with complex care needs. This lived experience along with her multi-lingual/multi-cultural experiences will lend themselves nicely to the role of Family Engagement & Outreach Coordinator, specifically with Spanish-speaking families affiliated with NYDBC. Alexandra’s first role within NYDBC was as a DeafBlind Parent Advisor for more than six years, providing perspective and critical input to outreach activities of the grant.
Families who are non-native English speakers are often more comfortable with and better understand their child’s educational needs and care when they communicate with the team in their heritage language. Alexandra is eager to bridge this gap through her community and lived experiences that will contribute to team success in identifying challenges across languages and cultures and striving to identify solutions. Alexandra is also on the executive board for the New York Parent Association for DeafBlind as their Spanish Family Liaison. Alexandra also holds a part-time position as Program & Operations Coordinator at Daniel’s Music Foundation.
Lisa Tsang — Project Assistant (Full-time)
Lisa graduated from the State University at Albany with a degree in Business Administration. She has excellent attention to detail that has contributed significantly to the various companies she has worked for throughout her career. Lisa has developed and maintained reports that were critical to the business needs of the respected organizations and provides excellent office management for all staff.
Lisa thrives in her ability to maintain close coordination with her team, juggles multiple projects and job tasks expertly and organizes scheduling and managing accounts at the master level. Her overall presence contributes to a more efficient and productive work environment.
Dr. Kate Pechenkina, Principal Investigator (Advisory role)
Dr. Pechenkina is the dean of the School of Social Sciences. She earned a B.S. in biology and an M.S. in biology and anthropology from Moscow State University in Russia. She received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Missouri–Columbia in 2002 and shortly after joined the faculty at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Dr.Pechenkina was instrumental in developing the new Queens College Business School, which was launched on March 3.
She has been coordinating the 4+1 program in public health with the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health, supervising the redesign of the pre-law advisory program, and overseeing the faculty diversity enhancement program sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Pechenkina co-edited a research anthology, “Bioarchaeology of East Asia: Movement, Contact, Health,” and has published over two dozen research articles and book chapters.
A principal emphasis in Dr. Pechenkina’s research is on how past environmental and cultural changes have shaped human epidemiology. Her research interests include stable isotope reconstruction of past human and animal diets, gender inequality in health, and bone and dental pathology. Since 2004, she has been conducting fieldwork in China, where she excavates at the ancient city of Zhenghan, which served as the capital of Zheng and Han kingdoms during early dynasties.
As the Principal Investigator on NYDBC, Pechenkina will maintain administrative connections within Queens College and the CUNY system on behalf of the grant program.