People and Places

Institute on Community Integration moves to brain institute The Institute on Community Integration is moving to the Masonic Institute for […]

Institute on Community Integration moves to brain institute

The Institute on Community Integration is moving to the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, from its longtime home at the University of Minnesota’s Pattee Hall. The move ushers in a new era of collaboration across the University of Minnesota designed to advance brain health in support of each person’s lifelong journey as a valued community member.

ICI brings more than 35 years of disability research, advocacy, and education/training, joins researchers, clinicians, and specialists from the University’s Medical School, M Health Fairview, and the College of Education and Human Development to the 116,000-square-foot building at 2025 W. River Road Parkway, Minneapolis.

The site is a familiar one to Minnesotans with disabilities, as it was home to Shriners Healthcare for Children for many years. The University’s Board of Regents approved purchase of the property in 2019.

“As an organization, we actually outgrew our space in Pattee Hall in the early 1990s, and the opportunity to now have fully accessible space that encourages collaboration with colleagues and that lets us welcome community partners is the culmination of our collective work over decades to make life better for people with disabilities through our research and its influence on changing policy and practice,” said Amy Hewitt, director of ICI.

Named in recognition of a gift from Minnesota Masonic Charities, the brain institute officially opened November 1. It offers collaborative interdisciplinary research, early neurobehavioral and mental health assessment, innovative targeted interventions, informed policy-making, compassionate advocacy, and community engagement and education.

“Learning about the different ways our colleagues think, and the context they bring to their work, will help us break down barriers and make our work more relevant to the community,” said Damian Fair, University of Minnesota Medical School Redleaf Endowed Director with the brain institute. “Once we begin digging into how we approach care for people with disabilities, we see some of the old labels pitting the medical and social models against each other are not accurate and that both approaches have already been coming together. The hope is that by breaking down walls and creating safe spaces to talk about different approaches, we’ll improve all of the ways we work for families navigating the critical issue of brain health.”

Sharing space in the new building gives the organizations housed on East River Parkway the chance to collaborate.

The new brain institute will be composed of several independent research cores, including TeleOutreach, that will provide support and expertise in neurodevelopmental research, integrated data collection, and analytical and intervention services under one roof.

The TeleOutreach Center, directed by ICI’s Jessica Simacek and Adele Dimian, associate director, was created under a philanthropic gift from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, providing research, training, and technical assistance through innovative and secure technology to address barriers to care for children, youth, families, and professionals. Under a new $600,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, researchers from ICI and the Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics will conduct a large-scale, randomized control trial assessing intervention and diagnostic services delivered via the TeleOutreach Center to families awaiting formal autism spectrum disorder evaluation or intervention.

ICI’s Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program is another existing ICI program that already has fostered deep connections across more than 16 academic disciplines at the University, Hewitt said. Each academic year, a cohort of fellows comes together under funding from the U.S. Maternal & Child Health Bureau to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes to make informed, committed action in the areas of neurodevelopmental and related disabilities.

Hewitt said advances in the fields of both medical and social policy are critical to understand together.

“In the past we made assumptions about how clinicians, physicians, and bench scientists think and act, but we don’t really know,” said Hewitt. “They have the same ultimate goal we do, which is that we want people with disabilities to have good lives. Today’s clinical advances in holistic medicine are just one example of a whole new way of looking at our work. And if we don’t really know what’s going on at the clinical level, we can’t change policies and practices.”

“Viewing disability as a unique difference rather than a problem to be solved is a foundational aspect of ICI,” Hewitt said. “Our approach to supporting people with developmental and neurodevelopmental disabilities throughout their lives will inform the work of (the brain institute) and create more inclusive communities for many years to come.” 

Read a longer version of this article at

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