After 29 years at Sonoma State University, psychology professor Lorna Catford, director of SSU's Collaborative Autism Training and Support (CATS) program, is retiring at the end of this academic year.
CATS was founded in 2005 and gives Sonoma State psychology students the opportunity to work directly with children in the community who've been diagnosed with autism. Catford developed the service-learning program to bring students and families in the community affected by autism together.
"Helping students find their voice, their strengths and their passions, and helping them actively live their goals--that's my passion," says Catford.
In partnership with the Child Parent Institute and North Bay Regional Center, Catford's students gain real-life skills needed to pursue a career in autism training by helping families and children who have been touched by the disease. When the training program began at Sonoma State more than a decade ago, Catford says roughly 20 students and 18 families were involved in its first semester. Since then, that number has doubled to 40 students and 35 families in the community.
Students enrolled in the Pyschology 490 course dedicate 50 hours in a semester to working with children on the autism spectrum as part of the CATS. Catford has seen the program grow immensely over the years and hopes it will continue to do so following her retirement.
Catford recalls many positive things from her 29 years at Sonoma State, though seeing her students live out their dreams and pursue fulfilling careers remains one of her best memories.
"I love working with freshmen and helping them develop their goals and values, and spurring them to action to live a life congruent with that," says Catford. "I love being an ally for students to ignite their passions and motivations in life."
Following Catford's retirement, the CATS program will be taken over by Sonoma State psychology professor Jessica Hobson, who will continue the community-based program and course in the spring semester.
"In terms of my love of community service," says Catford, "I'm not going to stop after I retire. My work is just going to take a more relaxed approach."
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