Good Counsel


School of Education faculty connect abilities with workforce needs.

Tucked away on the second floor of Drake’s School of Education, Matt Bruinekool and Robert Stensrud quietly rake in millions of dollars.

That money, in the form of federal grants, funds the National Rehabilitation Institute (NRI), established at Drake in 1976. With a mission that differs from the common understanding of “rehabilitation,”the NRI—led by Bruinekool (far left), its director and an assistant professor of education—combines teaching, research, and consultation to develop professionals dedicated to securing employment for people with disabilities.

The NRI’s work centers on a concept known as the “demand-side model,” which Stensrud (second from left), professor of education and a former NRI director, developed in the 1980s and 1990s with Dennis Gilbride, now professor and rehabilitation counseling program coordinator at Georgia State University. The demand-side model calls for counselors to work with business partners to determine employment needs before placing an individual with disabilities. The model is now a national standard, and Drake’s NRI is an industry leader.

“People thought of placement as giving a person the want ads and saying, ‘Go look,’” says Stensrud. “There’s really no way to send them out unless the employer is ready to receive them. We’ve moved from an adversarial model to a collaborative model, so we consult with businesses because that’s where the jobs are.”

Drake’s leadership in the field has made the NRI a go-to source of highly qualified professionals. A focus on both teaching and training means students graduate with not only a master’s degree but also the skills to work as placement counselors for people with disabilities.

“Our counselors who go to work at state agencies and other organizations are leaders in terms of the people they’re able to find employment for, and they’ve received national awards,” says Bruinekool. “There are employers who, when they have openings, call us and ask if we have anyone for them.”

The NRI has become so successful that it regularly secures major grants for the University—nearly $9.7 million since 1991. The funding goes primarily to scholarship support for rehabilitation counseling students, many of whom are people with disabilities.

Bruinekool and Stensrud have become national experts in the field, establishing partnerships with major research institutions (including the University of Wisconsin and Syracuse University) and government agencies. Program graduates dominate the industry, holding top rehabilitation counseling spots throughout the nation.

Those working professionals all need opportunities to remain current in the field, says Bruinekool, who looks to expand the NRI’s reach through recertification and other continuing education programs.

“We’re optimistic about our future.”

Danny Akright, jo’10, as’10

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