2023 National Rehabilitation Elections
Candidate's Personal Statements
Candidate for President Elect
Karen has worked in the rehabilitation field for over 29 years. She spent the first 10 years of her career working in the realm of psychosocial rehabilitation before discovering her true passion rests with VR. Karren joined the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) in 2004 as a counselor, and since then has held supervisory positions such as Regional Manager and Assistant Director of Client Services. Currently, she is the Director of the Workforce Programs Unit where she is responsible for monitoring policies and procedures, examining their efficacy, and recommending revisions when warranted; she also is tasked with the development of a new counselor and counselor assistant training program where she co-authored a procedural training manual. In addition, she recently joined the staff at Mississippi State University where she serves as an adjunct instructor in the Counseling, Educational Psychology, & Foundations department.
Karren holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Rehabilitation Counseling; she is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and a Certified Public Manager. Most recently, as part of the inaugural cohort of the National Training Center for Transformational Rehabilitation Leadership training program, she is also proud to hold the newly established Certified Rehabilitation Leader credential.
Karren’s areas of interest are work culture, strategic planning, and professional development. However, she is most passionate about transformational leadership, positive change, promoting our profession, and mentoring the next generation of rehabilitation counselors.
Candidates for Board Member at Large
I am a certified vocational rehabilitation counselor, special education teacher, advocate, and compassionate professional.
I began working in Vocational Rehabilitation as an employment specialist 18 years ago when I first graduated from college. My passion for the rehabilitation process and the ability to be able to support each person’s full potential is something that I still believe is amazing. I completed my Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling and as a VR counselor, I worked with a variety of caseloads including the Blind/Visually Impaired, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Correctional, General, TBI/SCI, and Transition. My skills as a rehabilitation counselor and special education teacher gave me a unique perspective on working with transition-aged youth and school districts which led me to my current position as a teacher specialist. I provide guidance to the district on the employment of people with disabilities and collaborate with VR counselors and providers to help students with disabilities obtain gainful, integrated employment in areas that we have explored over their high school career.
I do outreach to employers and create opportunities for students with disabilities. I advocate for the rehabilitation process and support teachers, students, families, and VR counselors to reach successful outcomes. I have been a guest speaker for multiple agencies, university classes, and conferences. I have been interviewed for a national special education newsletter to discuss successful transition practices for special education students.
As a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and Special Education Teacher, I pledge to respect diversity, respect the dignity of each student and their family, promote student welfare, and empower students and their families fully reach their education/training, employment, and independent living goals.
I strongly believe that we hold the ability to help each person reach their goals, should we choose to. If we all take a moment to realize that everyone has the potential to do amazing things, we can be the bridge to their success. I am an advocate for every person with a disability that crosses my path. The focus of my career has been to empower individuals to make educated decisions about their life through guidance, support, and advocacy. I am an advocate and I empower others to live their best lives. I would like to serve as a Board Member for the National Rehabilitation Association to be able to advocate on important issues for the rehabilitation community and continue my work as an advocate for the full inclusion of people with disabilities.
Gemarco J. Peterson
My name is Gemarco J. Peterson, Ph.D., CRC. I am currently a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor at Western Michigan University. I received a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Mississippi State University. Before pursuing a degree in Counselor Education, I gained experience working in state-level vocational rehabilitation agencies. I received a Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Counseling and Counselor Education from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. While enrolled, I also gained experience working as a Crisis Counselor and Transition Specialist for a Faculty Based Crises Center. My dissertation research focused on the Career Development of Black Women in Counselor Education, specializing in Rehabilitation Counseling.
My current research interests pertain to the career development of individuals with disabilities, employment equity, and employment outcomes of multiple marginalized people with disabilities. I am a principal investigator for an employment equity grant funded over five years. I have held leadership roles and committee-level roles in various counseling professional organizations. I am also a member of the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA) National Rehabilitation Counseling Association (NRCA), American Counseling Association (ACA), and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES). As I strive to become more culturally aware, I am committed to scholarship and leadership focused on equitable experiences for people with disabilities. An opportunity to serve is an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the profession, policy, and services.
Gemarco J. Peterson, Ph.D., CRC
How I believe I can contribute to the success of NRA:
Exchanging ideas: I enjoy helping people recognize common interests and I embrace the concept that by sharing resources, experience, and ideas, we all win. Learning from each other and sharing resources is a tide that raises all boats. But to really make the most of this opportunity one needs to keep an open mind and embrace new ideas. If elected I will leave my ego at the door, encourage suggestions and new perspectives, and do all I can to support a robust and relevant association.
Service experience and cultivating positive relationships: I have experience working for private agencies and the State of Minnesota and have served job seekers with disabilities from all backgrounds. I have served as Vice President of the Job Placement and Development (JPD) division of the MN chapter of NRA. I have served as Vice-President and as President of NRAJPD. I currently serve as President of MN JPD; as the District C representative for MN Rehabilitation Association (MRA); and as Editor for the MRA Spotlight Newsletter. I believe my varied experiences and roles position me to appreciate differing perspectives and identify common interests among stakeholders and members.
Identifying goals and getting things done: I am motivated to serve by something NRA President Paul Barnes once said to me: “The Board needs doers.” I am skilled in recognizing opportunities for growth and improvement, and I get a charge out of problem-solving. I believe I can use the relationship-building skills above to foster productive collaboration and mutual respect and deliver value to existing members while working to recruit new ones.
Cooperative action and advocacy: Policy is fundamental to our success. Advocacy nationally and in state legislatures can set a stronger foundation for our work and ensure that rehabilitation professionals can continue to count on the resources we need to be effective. If elected I would use my position, and my prior experience in grassroots political advocacy, to promote awareness and empower members to make their voices heard on issues relevant to our work.
With utmost sincerity, I am composing this personal statement to express my desire to join the National Rehabilitation Association board as a valuable member. I believe that my knowledge, skills, and experience align with NRA’s mission and values. I believe that joining NRA would be an exceptional opportunity to enhance my skills, broaden my network, and contribute to the field of vocational counseling. With dedication and passion, I am confident that I can make an inclusive impact within the NRA board.
Having seen firsthand how career decisions can shape a person with a disability’s life, I've come to the realization that my true passion lies in helping others find fulfillment and success in their chosen paths. It brings me joy to guide people with disabilities towards a brighter future and make positive impacts on their lives. With my academic background and practical experience, I have established a solid foundation in counseling techniques, and leadership training. This expertise allows me to provide insightful guidance that can help individuals with disabilities achieve their personal and professional goals. In addition, it is important to acknowledge that the vocational counseling industry is constantly evolving.
To remain relevant and provide the best leadership possible, it is essential for me to engage in ongoing professional development. This commitment ensures I am up to date with the partnership trends and equipped with cutting-edge research, ultimately resulting in more effective advocacy services for the clients we serve. My goal is to collaborate with professionals who share the same passion for our industry. I look forward to sharing insights, brainstorming innovative ideas, and making valuable contributions that elevate our collective knowledge base.
I am eager to catapult my vocational rehabilitation career by participating in workshops, seminars, and conferences organized by NRA to stay up to date with the latest diversity and inclusion initiatives, and evidence-based practices. I believe that through our shared commitment to these values, we can collectively elevate the field of vocational counseling and positively impact the lives of those we serve.
To summarize, I am committed to my role as a vocational counselor and thrilled to start a new chapter of growth and service with your prestigious organization. Thank you for considering my application, and I look forward to the opportunity to contribute to and learn from the vibrant community that NRA represents.
Karen L. Caldwell, MS, MS, CRC, LPC, IPEC
I joined the Texas Rehabilitation Association (TRA) May 2016 after the Texas Rehabilitation Action Network (TRAN) merged. I began work for the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) December of 2005. I joined TRAN not long after starting employment in Vocational Rehabilitation. I have always felt it was important to be a part of the professional association in whatever agency I work for. I believe in the importance of attending conferences to share ideas and network with other professionals in my field. I have helped plan conventions and have chaired the membership committee for TRA and currently serve on the membership committee for NRA. I also served on the TRA board.
I obtained my Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling May 2009 from The University of Kentucky and am a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC). I received a Bachelors in Speech Communication and Political Science May 1991 from Texas A&M University. I graduated from Harlingen High School May 1986.
I am currently employed with Texas Workforce Commission – Vocational Rehabilitation (TWC-VR) as the Community Outreach and Awareness Specialist. The goal of my job is to bring awareness of VR Services to the community. Previously I worked as a Regional Program Specialist for Central Texas. Prior to that I worked as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with a mental health case load.
I have worked for the State of Texas over 30 years, beginning in Unemployment Insurance, followed by Food Stamps, Medicaid & TANF. I would like to be considered for a position on the board of NRA.