Dr. Cynthia Chambers knew from an early age that she wanted to work with people with disabilities.
“Starting in kindergarten, the second I walked into a classroom, I found the kid with a disability to be my buddy,” Chambers said.
As associate dean of Teacher Education and a professor in Special Education and Educational Foundations for Clemmer College, Chambers is passionate about facilitating opportunities for her students to volunteer and lead community-based inclusive programming.
“When I first came to ETSU in 2007, I heard about a need from families in the area,” she said. “By spring, we had that service available in the form of a program called Families and Siblings United.”
Since then, she has helped initiate several inclusive community services, including the Power of Performing (POP) Arts, Friends of Lazarus Reading Program, Friends of Lazarus Job Internship Program, Learning with Laz and Turning Pages Together.
“Dr. Chambers has made such an impact in our community,” said Special Education graduate student Lindsey Swank, who helps manage several of Chamber’s service programs. “She has paved the way for programs in our community designed for children and adults with disabilities.”
Chambers describes the theme of her career as identifying and meeting community needs through people who share her passion and vision at ETSU. She views meeting these needs as mutually beneficial for both students and the community.
“We can create an opportunity for students to enhance their professionalism while making a real difference in the community,” said Chambers.
Chambers always wanted the focus of her work to be on families, especially sibling relationships.
With degrees in Special Education from Georgia College, Georgia State University, Vanderbilt and the University of Kansas, she has worked with people of all ages with disabilities.
Additionally, she serves as associate director of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program, which provides 300+ hours of additional training beyond the graduate students’ programs on neurodevelopmental disabilities and leadership.
“I enjoy the richness of relationships with people with disabilities,” she said. “We can learn so much from them.”
At home, she has seven cats and two dogs, many of whom have disabilities and would have otherwise been deemed unadoptable and may have been euthanized. One of her cats doesn’t have back feet. Another cat, Lazarus, has a cleft palate.
She and Lazarus have helped spread the message that unique is beautiful. Several of her community initiatives were inspired by Lazarus, and her work with Lazarus was featured on Animal Planet last year.
Chambers was recognized for her service contributions with the 2018 Distinguished Faculty Award for Service.
“I love being able to enhance opportunities for students from a variety of majors on campus,” said Chambers, who views herself as a facilitator of service initiatives.
However, she recognizes that the initiatives are sustained through teamwork and leadership from students at ETSU.
“In my undergrad, I had a teacher who saw my potential and really made a difference in my life,” she explained. “I hope to make a difference to students here at ETSU.”