Michelle Sporner has become very passionate about teaching students since being appointed a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh in the Rehab Counseling Program.
Sporner, a 2002 graduate of St. Marys Area High School, is the daughter of Mark and Leslie Sporner of St. Marys. She has a brother, Josh, a sister-in-law, Abby, and a nephew, Luke.
Following graduation from St. Marys Area, Michelle went to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown for two years before transitioning to the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
“I always knew I wanted to go to Pitt, but starting at UPJ was a great experience. When I came to Pitt, I went straight into the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences,” said Sporner.
“I always thought I wanted to by a physical therapist, but I started having all of these disability studies courses and something just clicked. At that time, I was also working as an undergraduate research assistant at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories. I loved doing research and really wanted to work with and for persons with disabilities. As a result, I immediately applied to the Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling Program. Through the research and the counseling program at Pitt, I knew I wanted to stay for my PhD,” said Michelle.
Michelle said that she had a lot of really wonderful people encouraging her to continue her education. She was eventually paired with her advisor, Dr. Michael Pramuka, and was very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him. He helped guide her and supported her through the ups and downs of getting a PhD and through her Master’s degree.
“I completed a clinical counseling internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, working with service members with traumatic brain injuries, and Dr. Pramuka was my faculty supervisor. He had so much experience and knowledge that I often found myself going to him for consultation on clients,” said Michelle.
Michelle has now begun working with Dr. Michael McCue, whom she said has been a very strong advocate for advancing her education and her career.
“By training, I am a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. Rehabilitation counseling is a process whereby the counselor works collaboratively with an individual with a disability to understand existing problems, barriers and potentials in order to facilitate the client’s effective use of personal and environmental resources for personal, social, career and community adjustment,” Michelle said.
Michelle received her MS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. She worked at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories for five years before transitioning to the faculty, and in June of 2010 she was appointed as a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh in the Rehab Counseling Program.
“As an instructor, I have the opportunity to advise master’s students and to teach courses. I have become very passionate about teaching students. I also have taken over the responsibility of supervising our students during their practicum and internship experiences, and I share that duty with a colleague,” said Sporner.
As part of her faculty position, she is also actively involved in helping to coordinate a cognitive rehabilitation program in Johnstown. She works very closely with the Rehab Counseling faculty to provide services to clients at the Cognitive Skills Enhancement Program (CSEP) at the Hiram G. Andrews Center and to help train their master students who also work at CSEP.
“I also work on several research projects. Two projects that I am currently working on are the evaluation of cognitive assistive technology service delivery for service members with traumatic brain injury at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the second is a project in our Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Telerehabilitation funded by the national Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. My particular area in this RERC on Telerehabilitation is cognitive and vocational rehabilitation,” said Michelle.
Through her research Michelle has published several book chapters and research articles. She worked on a textbook of military medicine entitled, “Care of The Combat Amputee,” and helped author four chapters in the book.
“Because a lot of my work is with service members with traumatic brain injury, particularly those returning from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have a lot of interactions with some high-ranking military personnel. In the military, receiving coins is a huge honor. I’ve had the honor of receiving coins from Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker and Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek,” said Sporner.
In 2007, she received the Student Scientific Paper Competition Award at the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America for her research paper entitled, “Psychosocial Impact for Individuals with Disabilities: Do Service Dogs Help?”
“Something that I take a lot of pride in is I completed my Master’s counseling internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) working with service members returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury. I feel like being able to go and spend three to four months at WRAMC was such an incredible opportunity. I learned so much and even though I never served in the military, this was my way to give back,” noted Sporner.
“My parents have been so supportive of all of my decisions and have pushed me to do whatever I want to do. I think growing up in St. Marys allowed me to develop a strong work ethic. I credit my parents for pushing me to work through any problem. I now live in Pittsburgh, but I try to get home every other month to see my family,” commented Michelle.
“I run half-marathons in my spare time, and even finished my first race in under two hours. Even though I have only run two (Pittsburgh and the Air Force in Dayton, OH), I keep looking for my next race,” she added.