People at ILR

Amber Elizabeth McConnell
people / faculty

Amber McConnell

Extension Associate Sr
Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability


Amber E. McConnell, Ph.D., is the Program Director for Transition and Education Programs and a Senior Extension Associate at the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability. She currently serves as the Director of the Transition Technical Assistance Partnership at YTI funded by the New York State Department of Special Education.

Amber received her Ph.D. in Special Education with a focus on improving post-school outcomes for students with disabilities from the University of Oklahoma in 2012. She has extensive involvement in research, advocacy, grant writing, policy, and professional development. Her experiences include strategic planning, project evaluation, capacity building, and graduate-level college course instruction at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK and Stuttgart, Germany. She has published multiple research studies in academic journals and has presented her work at local, state, and national conferences. Amber has contracted with four states to provide professional development and technical assistance to Special Educators in the areas of self-determination, transition, and student involvement in the IEP process.

Amber has a Masters in Student Personnel Services and holds teaching certifications in Special Education and English Language Arts. She is also a certified Trauma-Informed Practitioner with six years of teaching experience at the K-12 level and 7 years’ experience at the university level.

Amber is passionate about incorporating transition skills into academic curriculum and integrating research-based nonacademic skills into academic standards instruction to improve post-school outcomes. Amber believes in a holistic approach to preparing students with disabilities for life after high school that blends relationship skills, self-determination, job skill development, and knowledge acquisition.

Teaching Statement

I believe in dynamic learning that infuses pedagogy with personality. I believe in using research to create applied masterful instruction. When teaching, I focus on three overarching goals: 1) Invoke critical thinking to create informed consumers of information, 2) Promote mastery of course content, and 3) Encourage and require implementation of course content into real-world settings.

When teaching and presenting to a group of individuals not participating for course credit. I like to develop a meaningful registration process that allows me to know my audience and what they hope to learn from the experience. My goal when presenting is to provide data and research that can readily be adapted into practice for educators, administrators, parents, and stakeholders. I feel my research and presentations are bolstered by including individuals with disabilities when possible.

Research Statement

My research focuses on skills, behaviors, and knowledge associated with post-school employment and further education. Nonacademic skills can be as important as academic for the futures of students with disabilities. Less than half of individuals with disabilities are employed and many are fired for reasons that have nothing to do with performing job tasks, but an inability to perform non-job task behaviors such as not getting along with others, dishonesty, not coming to work on time, and failure to complete entire tasks. Nonacademic skills are also important for those who want to attend postsecondary education. Even though more with disabilities are enrolling in postsecondary education, 80% do not graduate.

To identify nonacademic strengths and needs of students with disabilities, our research team created the Transition Assessment and Goal Generator (TAGG). TAGG is an easy-to-use transition assessment based on research-identified behaviors and experiences associated with post-school employment and further education. We conducted an in-depth literature review to identify experiences and behaviors known to impact whether a student enrolls in postsecondary education or participates in employment and created constructs and items from those behaviors and experiences. The TAGG assesses the following constructs (a) strengths and limitations, (b) disability awareness, (c) student involvement in the IEP, persistence, (d) goal setting and attainment, (e) interacting with others, (f) employment, and (g) support community.

The TAGG is used in all 50 states and has more validity evidence supporting its use than most transition assessments. The TAGG was developed following procedures outlined in the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education, 2014). Validation studies including content, structure, internal consistency, and relations to other variables were conducted by our research team.

Service Statement

I have over ten years of experience developing and delivering programs and services related to transition education, self-determination, and nonacademic skills needed for post-school employment and further education, and independently designing, developing, and delivering research results in easy to understand formats for non-researchers consumers. I have led local, national, and international professional development initiatives in the areas of transition and self-determination.

Outreach Statement

I have a passion for both teaching and research. The enthusiasm I hold for scholarly
research activities is mirrored in my teaching endeavors, and my teaching endeavors are enhanced by my scholarly research. I strive to be responsive to the needs of the field of disability employment and transition and facilitate positive post-school outcomes for individuals with disabilities.


Journal Articles

Book Chapters

  • Amber McConnell, Kendra L. Williams-Diehm, Tracy Sinclair, Andrea Suk. 2019. Transition assessment and goal generator (TAGG): Useful tool to assess non-academic behavior. in Career development transitions for students with special educational needs. Springer Education & Language, 2019.
  • James E Martin, Amber McConnell. 2017. Transition planning. in Handbook of research-based practices for educating students with intellectual disability. 2017. M. L. Wehmeyer & K. A. Shogren. (151-166)
  • Maeghan N Hennessey, Amber McConnell, James E Martin. 2014. Developing an educational assessment: recruiting and retaining teacher participants. in SAGE research methods cases. SAGE Publications, Ltd., 2014. P. Brindle .

Professional Activities

  • Connecting the Dots: Elementary Career Awareness and Work-Based Learning. Presented to DCDT. Little Rock, AR. 2022.
  • Navigating Remote and Virtual Work-Based Learning Experiences. Presented to Division on Career Development and Transition. 2022.
  • Navigating Virtual Work-Based Learning Experiences. Presented to Council for Exceptional Children. 2022.
  • Virtual Work-Based Learning Teacher Slam. Presented to Council for Exceptional Children. Virtual . 2022.
  • Work-Based Learning APPs . Presented to Oklahoma APSE . Virtual . 2021.
  • Navigating Virtual Work-Based Learning Experiences. Presented to National Center for Disability Education and Training . Virtual . 2021.
  • Navigating Virtual Work-Based Learning Experiences. Presented to National Center for Disability Education and Training. 2021.
  • Positive youth development: How empowered youth impact change. Presented to Tulsa Health Department. Tulsa, Oklahoma. 2019.
  • ADA vs. IDEA: What we need to teach students with disabilities to expect at a university. Presented to Oklahoma Transition Council. 2018.
  • Improving research-based practices for educating students with an intellectual disability. Presented to DADD. 2018.
  • Identifying skills and experiences students with significant cognitive disabilities need for postsecondary employment, education, and independent living. Presented to DCDT. 2018.
  • Teaching students to become actively involved in their IEP meeting and transition planning process. Presented to Nebraska State Department of Education . 2018.
  • Tying the knot: Marrying English language arts and transition skills. Presented to Oklahoma Transition Council. 2018.
  • Assessing and teaching nonacademic skills needed for employment and postsecondary education. Presented to CEC. 2017.
  • Developing a research agenda: Strategies for early career scholars. Presented to DCDT. 2017.
  • Finding and using your voice: Advocating at your state capitol. Presented to DCDT. 2017.
  • Skills students with significant cognitive disabilities need: Developing a new transition assessment. Presented to DCDT. 2017.
  • Seeking external funding. Presented to National Deaf and Hard of Hearing Coalition. Atlanta, GA. 2016.
  • TAGG: A new online assessment. Presented to DADD. Waikiki Beach, HI. . 2016.
  • The TAGG project: Developing and validating the results of a new secondary transition assessment. Presented to IES. Washington, D.C.. 2016.
  • Using transition assessment results to write indicator 13 compliant transition plans. Presented to Council for Exceptional Children. 2015.
  • Using the ME! lesson package to teach disability awareness and self-advocacy. . Presented to Nebraska State Department of Education . 2014.
  • College and career success indicators in relation to gpa and percent of time in general education. Presented to AERA. San Francisco, CA. . 2013.
  • Self-advocacy and self-determination skills for student athletes. Presented to National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics. 2013.
  • Indicators of college and career success and the transition assessment and goal generator (TAGG). Presented to CCSSO . Washington, DC.. 2012.
  • Parent involvement in the transition process. Presented to Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation . 2012.
  • Self-determination assessments and supported employment. Presented to Association for Persons in Supported Employment . 2011.

Honors and Awards

  • Educator of the Year, Oklahoma DCDT. 2017
  • Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, University of Oklahoma . 2012
  • Gamma Beta Phi National Honor Society and Oklahoma Golden Key International Honour Societ, University of Oklahoma . 2012
  • Will Rogers Scholarship Recipient, University of Oklahoma . 2011
  • Sooner Scholar Recipient, University of Oklahoma . 2010
  • Academic Achievement Award: One student is selected in each graduate degree-granting discipline, Northeastern State University. 2007