University of South Florida

College of Behavioral and Community Sciences


Past executive director gives $100K to program that supports young adults with autism

Christine Rover, Beth Boone, Karen Berkman, Julianne Serovich

Left to right: Christine Rover; Beth Boone, PhD, BCBA-D; Karen Berkman, PhD; and Julianne Serovich, PhD

During her career at USF, Dr. Karen A. Berkman was a pioneer for change, developing innovative ideas that would advance the Department of Child and Family Studies' community programs and their impact on the lives of those served. 

Now, nearly two decades since she joined the faculty, Dr. Berkman has given $100,000 to The Learning Academy (TLA), a transition program that assists in preparing young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder for employment. Her generous gift will support the innovative projects and ideas of future leaders who seek to improve the lives of TLA students just like she did. 

“For me it’s a win-win. I feel great being able to support something that is important to me, that I’ve poured 16 years of my life into at USF,” said Dr. Berkman. “It gives me such pleasure to know and to be able to say to the team, ‘I’ve got you.’” 

Dr. Berkman speaks at TLA's Night of Discovery

Dr. Berkman speaks at TLA's Night of Discovery.

Dr. Berkman was a faculty member in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, home to Child and Family Studies. She was also executive director of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at USF (CARD-USF) and the former director of TLA. She served as the principal investigator for both projects, coordinating all project activities, budget and administrative supervision.  

The job included ensuring the programs and curriculum she developed reflected the autistic community’s needs and meshed with other programs in the area. 
She spent much of her career developing innovative programs that set trends in the field.

The TLA team reacts to Dr. Berkman's gift

The TLA team reacts to Dr. Berkman's gift.

“The Learning Academy was created 15 years ago and was the first of its kind in our region,” she said. “Nearly 200 students have graduated and moved on to the careers they were passionate about. Success is measured through ongoing data collection that has demonstrated program efficacy and positive student outcomes.”

In addition to her $100,000 gift to TLA, Dr. Berkman gave $25,000 to the Karen A. Berkman Innovation and Autism Fund during the CARD Constituency Board meeting earlier in the day. This fund supports the operating expenses for innovative and special projects of CARD-USF and TLA Services. 

Christine Rover, assistant program director of CARD-USF, said she is thankful the gifts will support the projects’ continued creativity and ability to mirror the constituency’s future needs. 

“Dr. Berkman’s gift allows The Learning Academy team to determine market trends and expand and enhance programming to match student interests and skills,” said Rover.  

Dr. Berkman spent her career serving the community and her presence and legacy will be felt for generations to come.

If you are moved by the story of these students who have gone on to build a high level of confidence and competence, then Dr. Berkman invites you to join her in supporting the Learning Academy Success Fund through the USF Foundation at

Dr. Berkman and the CARD USF teamDr. Berkman presents the check to the CARD-USF team.

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About College of Behavioral & Community Sciences News

The Mission of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS) is to advance knowledge through interdisciplinary teaching, research, and service that improves the capacity of individuals, families, and diverse communities to promote productive, satisfying, healthy, and safe lives across the lifespan. CBCS envisions the college as a globally recognized leader that creates innovative solutions to complex conditions that affect the behavior and well-being of individuals, families, and diverse communities.