Irene (right) with her committee member and mentor.

Irene Cavanagh, Associate Executive Director of NYC OPWDD Services at Eden II, recently earned her doctorate from Concordia University Chicago.

Q) What did you earn your degree in?
A) I was recently awarded a doctorate in education (Ed.D.).

Q) How many degrees have you earned?
A) In 1983 I earned a Bachelors Degree in psychology from St. Joseph’s College. I was interested in St. Joe’s College for their large education program with a developmental focus. In 1993, I earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Long Island University.

Q) What has been your biggest motivation for pursuing a higher education?
A) I guess the short answer is my mother. She valued education and was never able to go to college. This was what she wanted for me and she sacrificed to make sure it happened, both on the undergraduate as well as graduate level. Later in my career, when I was ready to move from the classroom to administration, it was apparent that there was a need to continue my education. It was impossible to continue my education with the types of administrative jobs that I held before coming to Eden II. Eden II nurtured this goal for me. We know that environment contributes to a change in behavior, and I believe that Eden II has an environment which supports education; not only for it’s students, but for the staff as well. Like my mother, who never asked “if” I would continue my education but “when”, my colleagues here at Eden just figured that I would further my education and supported me in this pursuit. Paraphrasing a talk by Joanne Gerenser (Eden II’s Executive Director) early on in my tenure at Eden- I think the statement was something like, “If I can do it, you can do it – just do it.” Having a mentor that believes in you like that is incredible. Mentors can be very motivating and at Eden there are many potential mentors to choose from.

Q) What has been the greatest benefit of your studies when it comes to your work with the autism community? 
A) I was lucky to have studied with psychologists who had strong behavioral backgrounds. My final internship for an undergraduate clinical psychology course was at a group home for the developmentally disabled in Brooklyn. In the fall of 1982, I found an old textbook of mine from a course the semester before that internship. It was called  “Teaching Developmentally Disabled Children: The Me Book” by Lovaas. I think that was the first time I really felt a strong connection to what I studied. That course and that book made sense out of everything I had ever studied. I was hooked. I am not sure that my studies led me to work with individuals with ASD, but my experience certainly did. My education was the foundation for working in the autism community. The match between ABA and autism was too strong a pull to resist.

Q) Any words of advice for those pursuing their education?
A) Being a life-long learner is the most important thing we can do. It may not mean going back to school to get a degree. It may mean going to a conference, a seminar, taking a course, or learning a new skill at work. It might simply be reading a book, an article in a journal or listening to someone talk about their experience and learning a new strategy. Whatever road one choses to take in continuing their education, taking one step at a time is the way to go. Take the long term goal, break it up into short, manageable steps and just take that first step.