image of Robai Werunga

Robai N. Werunga, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Special Education

Fine Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences
School of Education
Coburn Hall, Room 270F


Single case Design Research, Multi-tiered systems of Support, Early literacy and behavioral Intervention, Immigrant Family empowerment and engagement, International Special Education

Research Interests

Early academic and behavioral interventions; Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS); Culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners; Family and school relations; Immigrant family empowerment; Global special Education Practices.


  • Ph D: Special Education, (2018), University of North Carolina at Charlotte - Charlotte, N.C.
  • M.A.: Special Education, (2005), Fayetteville State University - Fayetteville, N.C.
  • B.Ed: Arts, (1995), Egerton University - Nakuru, Kenya, Swahili and Religious Studies


Robai Werunga, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Special Education in the department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Her research focus is in early academic and behavioral interventions through multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS). Werunga' s target population is students with or at-risk for Emotional/Behavioral Disorders (EBD) and/or Learning Disabilities with a focus on culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners. In addition, Werunga does research on strategies that foster and promote meaningful family and school relations as well as family engagement.

Werunga has a keen interest in cultural responsiveness in teaching and explores this topic within her teaching and scholarship. Currently, Werunga teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the School of Education. Werunga has over 20 years' experience working with individuals with disabilities; sixteen of those years were spent working directly with students with disabilities within grade school. She has taught in both separate and inclusive settings and designed instruction for students in both settings. She is a member of the council for exceptional children (CEC) with active membership on several divisions, including Division of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners (DDEL- Secretary), Division of International Special Education and Service (DISES- MAL), and the Teacher Education Division (TED). In addition, Dr. Werunga is a member of the Association for Positive Behavior Supports (APBS), and chairs the Programming committee of CEC'S Project 20/20.

Selected Awards and Honors

  • 2023 Grants- FY 23 Total Expenditures- over $300,000 UML Faculty Symposium, December 2023 
  • 2023 River Hawk Scholars Academy Faculty Advocate (2023-2024) UML Faculty Symposium, December 2023 
  • 2022 River Hawk Scholars Academy Faculty Advocate (2022-2023) UML Faculty Symposium, December 2022 
  • 2022 Nominee- School of Education Teaching Excellence Award 
  • 2022 Nominee- UMass Lowell Undergraduate Mentoring Award 
  • 2021 Member Spotlight, Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES). I was nominated and selected by the DISES membership committee for my scholarship and service with regards to supporting global special education endeavors abroad and here in the US. 
  • 2017 The E.G "Ted" Carr Outstanding Poster Award (APBS 2017, Denver CO)

Selected Publications

Selected Presentations

  • 2023, October: Panelist: Stories of Impact: A Day for Celebration, Reflection & Looking Ahead. As a local university partner in the “Reach Every Reader Project (2020-2022)” I was invited to be part of a panel discussion on the teacher candidates experiences using the Virtual Reality portion of the project and the future of Virtual Reality in Teacher preparation programs. Harvard University 
  • 2023-2024- Expert Panelist. Research Project “Pursuing Equity for Students with Learning Differences in Schools Using Authentic Assessments” Envision Learning Partners 
  • 2023, May: Facilitator: “Anti-racist practices, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Special Education”. SPEDEX Consultants’ Annual Meeting. 
  • 2023, March: Presenter. Project 20/20 Town Hall Project 20/20 is a three-year, outcomes-based project driven by all of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), from individual members to various components (Divisions, Units, chapters, and caucuses). I am one of the Goal chairs for this committees; I presented on the progress made in the past 2 years, plans for Year 3, as well as our recommendations to CEC at the 101st Annual Council for Exceptional Children conference, Louisville KY 
  • Werunga, R.N. & Fedha, F.N (July 2023). Addressing High incidence disabilities Education Gap: An EBD/SLD Pilot Curriculum. Presentation at the Annual Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) conference, Bangalore, India 
  • Rosales, R., Rinaldi, C., & Werunga, R.N. (2023, May). A collaborative interdisciplinary approach to training graduate students. Presentation delivered at the 98th Association for Behavior Analysis International, Denver, CO. 
  • DCD/DISES Collaborative Panel Presentation (2023, March). Supporting Learning Opportunities for Displaced Children with Disabilities Through High Leverage Practices. Presentation at the 101st Annual Council for Exceptional Children conference, Louisville KY 
  • Werunga, R.N. (July 2022). Immigrant Family Empowerment Through Training. Presentation at the 100th Annual Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) conference, Breckenridge CO 
  • Werunga, R.N. (January 2022). Immigrant Family Empowerment: Leveraging Community Partnerships. Presentation at the 100th Annual Council for Exceptional Children conference, Orlando Florida 
  • Werunga, R.N. (November 2021). Preservice Teachers' Perceptions Regarding their use of High Leverage Practices in a Virtual Reality Classroom Teaching Demonstration. Presentation at the Annual TED conference, Fort Worth Tx. 
  • Werunga, R.N., Minjeong K, Rosales, R, McKenna, J. (March 2021). Cambodian American Parents' Knowledge of Special Education Services Provided to their Children with Disabilities. Presentation at the 2021 Virtual Council for Exceptional Children conference via L.I.V.E!
  • Redmond, P., Jez, R. J., Hersey, P., Reid, T., & Werunga, R.N. (2020). Our profession is political: Advancing equity and democratic activism through culturally responsive teacher dispositions. Recorded paper presented at a meeting of the National Association of Multicultural Education Virtual Conference. 
  • Werunga, R.N., Minjeong K, Rosales, R, McKenna, J, Lo, Y. (February 2020). Empowering Immigrant Families from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds to Advocate for and Support their Children with Disabilities, Presentation at the annual Council for Exceptional Children conference, Portland Oregon

Selected Contracts, Fellowships, Grants and Sponsored Research

  • 2023: Werunga, PI (Uy & Tigert CO-PI) In-Person Exchange Program: Teaching English Language Learners with Special Needs This program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Office of English Language Programs (ECA/A/L) FHI 360. ($167, 296) 
  • 2023: Werunga CO-PI ( Szczesiul PI) FY2023: Massachusetts Public K–12 Educator Diversification Grant (Fund Code: 242) This RFP is designed to support non-profit organizations and institutes of higher education efforts to diversify the Massachusetts educator workforce. If awarded, we Plan to utilize the funds to recruit and support diverse teacher candidates through our Grow Your Own (GYO) partnerships with Lowell and Lawrence Public schools. ($393,406) 
  • 2023: Werunga (P1) Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program (CADFP)- CADFP is a fellowship program for African institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda to host an African-born scholar to work in projects in research collaboration, graduate student teaching/mentoring and curriculum co-development. With this fellowship I will be working with Egerton University’s school of education on modifying existing curriculum to incorporate courses or content that introduce teacher candidates to students with specific learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders ($20,040) 
  • 2021: Werunga Senior Project Personnel (Rosales, PI) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Interdisciplinary Preparation in Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services for Personnel Serving Children with Disabilities who have High-Intensity Needs (CFDA 84.325K). Award# H325K21071 ($1,000,000) Role: Senior Personnel- 1-Identified the grant, 2- Established connection between PI and CO-PI (to satisfy the interdisciplinary requirement of the grant), 3- Provided template for proposal, 4-Provided feedback on the proposal. Currently working on the grant in collaboration with PI 
  • 2021: Werunga (PI) Mary Bacigalupo Educational Endowment Award. Parent and Community Broker Training on the Special Education Process and IEP Basics ($1400) 
  • 2019: Werunga (PI) University of Massachusetts Lowell, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Sustainability Engagement & Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund Empowering Families from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds to Advocate for and Support their Children with Disabilities ($10,000) The goal of this project is to develop targeted training modules parents and families of students with disabilities (SWD) from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds in the greater Lowell region so that they can be informed advocates for their students with disabilities. Role: PI