Carol Britton Laws, an assistant clinical professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, is the founding director of UGA’s first inclusive postsecondary education program for youth with intellectual disabilities: Destination Dawgs.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my Bachelor of Arts in psychology and art history from Rutgers College, my Master of Social Work from Rutgers School of Social Work, and my Ph.D. from UGA’s School of Social Work. My work focuses on development of the disability-related workforce. I am the training director for the Institute on Human Development and Disability/University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disability Research, Training and Service, where I instruct in and coordinate UGA’s disability studies certificate program. I am the founding director of UGA’s first inclusive postsecondary education program for youth with intellectual disabilities: Destination Dawgs. I am also the principal investigator on a five-year model demonstration project funded by the Administration on Community Living to enhance the quality of support to people with disabilities in home and community settings.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in July of 2009 as an incoming doctoral student in the School of Social Work. I decided to apply to the Graduate School at UGA after completing my MSW at Rutgers University and working for three years within New Jersey’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disability Research, Training and Service. I was very fortunate that as I completed my doctorate, my current position at UGA opened, and I was hired into it. I am thrilled to be able to continue to work within the UCEDD network and to have gotten to stay at UGA and Athens, both of which I have come to love.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite courses are service-learning courses. I was a Service-Learning Fellow in 2013-2014, and I have observed how powerful this instructional pedagogy can be. I have seen my students change their attitudes and expectations regarding people with disabilities. I also very much agree with the reciprocal nature of service-learning to meet a community need as it aligns with my teaching philosophy and UGA’s land grant mission.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I have a number of highlights in the more than five years that I have been working at UGA: receiving an email from one of my first students—who went on to a Fulbright scholarship to study in Wales—describing my role in her decision and subsequent success; the orientation of our first cohort of Destination Dawgs students, through which we all got to meet and take photos with Hairy Dawg; and being awarded the Service-Learning Teaching Excellence award in 2017, which was a tremendous honor.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
I tell them that I work in workforce development. Through instruction, I prepare UGA students to work in clinical fields with people with disabilities and share that knowledge nationally. Through service, I prepare youth with intellectual disabilities to build their knowledge, independent living skills, social networks and job skills to have a good adult life. I serve on national workgroups to share this as well. I am also working to develop interventions that have a national scope and will improve outcomes for people with disabilities in community settings.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I think it is all reciprocal and intertwined. I try to improve my instruction based on what I learn through scholarship in my field, and I try to share successful practices through presentations that are relevant to my colleagues.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope that students will gain a values base that allows them to view disability as a social issue, not only a problem for an individual. I hope they gain comfort in being in relationships with people who have different life experience, and I hope that they come to see themselves as change makers who have valuable innovative ideas and the skill needed to create a better world for people with disabilities and their families.
Describe your ideal student.
Any student who comes to my class with an open mind and willingness to be challenged is ideal to me.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is …
I am currently a Special Collections Libraries Faculty Teaching Fellow, and my favorite place to be on campus at the moment is in the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries. The vault makes you realize how small you are, literally. There are so many interesting artifacts on display with stories that are eye-opening. I learn something new with every visit. I feel like I am in an episode of “Mysteries at the Museum” while there, and I love that.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to …
… visit the many folk/outsider art galleries and sites in the South. I recently visited Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in Summerville and was fascinated by the scope and depth of his commitment to sharing his vision through so many different media. I also convinced my husband to drive with me to Seale, Alabama, to visit artist Butch Anthony’s home. When we finally reached his Museum of Wonders I saw him standing there, denim coveralls and all, and almost turned around to leave. I didn’t know what to say to this man, who I found fascinating while on an episode of “American Pickers.” He was very welcoming, and we spent the day combing through his “museum” and grounds and chatting about his work. I am a proud owner of pieces created by both Finster and Anthony, among other outsider artists. I truly love these strange and wonderful places and creative people.
Community/civic involvement includes …
I serve as the current chair of the Georgia Chapter of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. I have been a member of this organization for 10 years and am a proud Fellow of the national organization. Much of my “free” time is dedicated to supporting their efforts at the state and national levels.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I just saw “The Shape of Water” and loved it. It speaks to difference (physical, communication and sexuality), isolation and loneliness. It also touches on the historical response to difference though medicalization and objectification, which are things people with disabilities have long experienced. I love that the story is about love that transcends differences. In addition to this, I love to read a good thriller and films that are set in time periods I am interested in, like the 1920s and ‘60s.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
Being on the football field during the Auburn game on Nov. 12, 2016, with the first cohort of Destination Dawgs students and UGA student government champions as we received UGA’s Athletic Association Team U.G.A. (Unselfish Giving Attitude) Award. This award honors those in the Bulldog Nation who have made significant impacts on their communities. Hearing our Destination Dawgs students’ names read and seeing them waving and smiling on the JumboTron was incredible. The standing ovation we received from the stands was overwhelming and made me teary. I was so proud of our students and to be a Bulldog. And we won.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to congratulate the College of Family and Consumer Sciences on its centennial anniversary and to thank the administration for allowing faculty the space and support for innovation. I couldn’t be in a better place.