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Faculty Fellow Profile: Kara Hume

Kara Hume

Faculty Fellow Profile: Kara Hume

October 5, 2023

When Kara Hume, PhD, fulfilled the community service requirement at her Phoenix high school by volunteering with a family who had a 7-year-old son with autism, she never imagined it would steer the course for her professional life. But the strong connection she built with the child and family inspired her to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in special education. After teaching children with autism for seven years, Hume—who is a faculty fellow at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) and associate professor and the Richard “Dick” Coop Faculty Scholar in Education in the UNC School of Education—wanted to broaden her service to the field and build relationships with autistic individuals in a variety of capacities. She earned an MEd in educational psychology and a PhD in special education and pursued a career in academia. While the setting of her work has changed since high school, she says that she has remained on the same path, learning from and with people with autism.

Her research portfolio is comprised of diverse projects focusing on classroom and home-based intervention strategies for young children, school-age children, and adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD); structured teaching strategies with autistic individuals; and professional development and implementation support for special education service providers. Her most recent project is the PACE program (Physical Activity and Community EmPOWERment), which was inspired by her personal interest in fitness.

Hume, a certified CrossFit coach, is co-principal investigator of PACE with FPG Faculty Fellow Brianne Tomaszewski, PhD. For the past four years, Hume has enjoyed serving as a volunteer who organizes and coaches Power Hour, an inclusive CrossFit class for youth and adults with and without disabilities. Seeing the benefits for all the athletes in the community and hearing from individuals with IDD, their families, and care providers that there are not many spaces where individuals with disabilities can access physical activity, inspired this project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

While the researchers hope the project leads to increased rates of physical activity, Hume says that her biggest interests are outcomes related to overall well-being and social belonging. Because the funding is from NIH’s National Institute on Aging, the team is also exploring measures related to cognition, as individuals with IDD are more likely to develop early onset dementia and other cognitive challenges as they age. Exercise might be a possibility to help support these aspects of the aging process. The five-year project, which launched this year, is starting with focus groups of exercise professionals, individuals with IDD, their caregivers, and disability professionals to determine the resources needed to implement inclusive fitness programs successfully throughout the community.

Another project Hume leads, alongside researchers at the University of Kansas, is a large-scale randomized control trial funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The team is looking at several different interventions—one related to school connectedness and another related to self-determination and goal setting—for autistic students enrolled in a standard course of studies in high schools across the country.

“We want to do what we can to improve both the experiences in high school for our autistic students, as well as enhance outcomes after graduation,” says Hume. “Post-high school outcomes are not what we would hope for autistic students, so we want to learn more about how we can best support students and staff while in high school and how programmatic changes can positively impact life after high school.”

Before becoming a member of the faculty at UNC’s School of Education in 2019, Hume served as an advanced research scientist at FPG, joining the Institute in 2008. From 2012 to 2018, she co-led FPG’s Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism, a research and development center funded by IES. She says that being an FPG Faculty Fellow is a privilege that allows her to stay connected to a community she greatly values. Hume enjoys continuing to collaborate with many of her long-time FPG friends and colleagues and appreciates FPG’s broad and diverse networks for dissemination, as well as being affiliated with FPG’s respected and renowned reputation.

When considering her impact on the field, she says, “I hope that I, along with great colleagues and the autism community, have contributed to building more supportive and inclusive spaces where autistic individuals feel more connected, more valued, and more understood.”