Vanderbilt Kennedy Center named U.S. Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities; Receives $2.5 million five-year grant to support research and outreach

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development has won a $2.5 million, five-year grant and designation as a University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service from the federal Administration on Developmental Disabilities. The center will use the funds to expand training and outreach and to improve disability services to poor and underserved populations across Tennessee.

ADD Commissioner Pat Morrissey announced the award Sept. 29 at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s 40th Anniversary Community Luncheon at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “As a national center for research on developmental disabilities, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center has already had a wonderful influence nationally on disability public policy and practices,” Morrissey said. “As part of our ADD network, we look forward to the center making even greater contributions as it transfers research into innovative practice for Tennesseans and the nation.”

“The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is one of Vanderbilt University’s greatest resources for discovery and service,” said Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee. “Attaining this designation as a center of excellence is an important milestone, and further demonstrates our role as a national leader in this important area.”

There are just 61 such centers nationwide. Vanderbilt’s designation, along with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s existing designation, makes Tennessee one of just a handful of states to host two of these centers. The Vanderbilt center of excellence will address four areas of emphasis: education and early intervention, individual and family-centered supports, health and mental health, and recreation and the arts.

“I congratulate the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center on this achievement,” Rep. Jim Cooper said. “This designation is an important recognition of the national leadership provided by the Kennedy Center as well as its vital role in our community.”
“I was happy to be able to support the wonderful work that’s being done at Vanderbilt,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn said. “The community should be proud that Vanderbilt is really helping to lead the effort to improve the lives of those with developmental disabilities.”

The centers of excellence have played key roles in every major national disability initiative over the past four decades. Issues such as early intervention, health care, community-based services, inclusive and meaningful education, transition from school to work, employment, housing, assistive technology and transportation have directly benefited from the model services, research and training provided by these centers.

“The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is proud to join the distinguished national center of excellence network,” said Pat Levitt, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center director. “We will now be able to expand existing training and outreach programs and develop new initiatives, with an emphasis on serving Tennessee’s poor and underserved minority and rural populations.”

“The Kennedy Center has a storied history in research and care of children and adults with developmental disabilities,” said Dr. Harry Jacobson, vice chancellor for health affairs. “This grant comes at an opportune time as we develop new tools to understand brain development and imaging to observe and better understand brain function. These new areas of discovery will change treatments for people with developmental disabilities and will improve their lives.”

The Vanderbilt center of excellence will be directed by Elisabeth Dykens, professor of psychology and human development and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s associate director. The center will work in partnership with Tennessee’s other ADD partners, the Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and Tennessee Protection and Advocacy, Inc.

For more information on the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, visit For more Vanderbilt news, visit

Media contacts: Jan Rosemergy, (615) 322-8238

Melanie Moran, (615) 322-NEWS

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