In recent years, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of faculty to train aspiring special education teachers and other leaders in the field of special education. Project SELF (Special Education Leaders of the Future) is a 325D grant from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the U.S. Department of Education. This grant is designed to prepare scholars to become future leaders in special education and disability studies.
Scholars in the program will be enrolled in the Special Education and Disability Studies Ph.D. program in the College of Education and Human Development.
The grant is led by Shanon S. Taylor, associate professor of special education, in collaboration with Lindsay Diamond, associate professor of special education, and Randall Owen, associate professor of special education and director of the Nevada Center of Excellence in Disabilities. Together they have partnered with multiple collaborative partners that will allow project scholars the opportunity to analyze data gathered from local school districts, state Department of Education and university partners in order to develop research skills by participating in real-life projects.
The grant will fund six scholars, providing tuition, a monthly stipend and graduate student insurance, with recruitment for project scholars beginning this fall.
The Special Education and Disability Studies program has received funding from this grant source twice in the past; the first grant prepared a number of special education leaders across Nevada, and the second completed scholars who have taken positions in higher education in Nevada and across the country.
Within the structure of this grant, there are three research seminars that will take them from working as a group on research to eventually conducting independent research. Upon graduation, scholars will be ready to accept leadership roles at the school district or state level, in advocacy or policy areas, or at the university level teaching special education.
"We want scholars to really have to solve research problems that are meaningful, and that they understand from beginning to end what it looks like to do research," Taylor said.
The Nevada Department of Education, local school districts, and the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities are the key collaborative partners that allow this grant to provide an in-depth preparation for the scholars admitted.
"These partnerships will allow us to have scholars acquire experience in different areas to understand what research looks like in these capacities and the impact their research can have on the field," Diamond said.
The Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities will provide the scholars opportunities to participate in ongoing, real-world experiences. The Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities currently has projects in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, Schoolwide Multitiered Systems of Support, assistive technology, and family support, among many others.
“We are looking forward to hosting scholars from this program in our current projects to help them better understand the range of contexts that people with disabilities face,” Owen said. “It’s important that special educators, especially those who may fill leadership positions, have a solid understanding not only of special education, but of the community and how it relates to disability, as well.”
With a background in emotional/behavior disorders and behavior management, Taylor takes the lead with the Project SELF grant, overseeing all the scholars' training. Diamond, with a specialization in autism and early childhood, will mentor the scholars in hopes that they will go on to mentor future special education teachers. Owen has a background in disability studies and will contribute to the supervision as well, especially in regards to understanding the lived experience of people with disabilities. He will also coordinate the data obtained throughout this program.
"The whole point is to prepare special education professionals, and these types of grants have been around for decades because the U.S. Department of Education and Congress recognized how significant the shortage is of special education professionals," Taylor said. "Without leaders, the system falls apart, affecting the foundation of special education.”