Terri Vandercook lectures during her College of Education, Leadership and Counseling special education class July 17, 2014 in McNeely Hall.

Special Education and Gifted Education Forms New Leadership Group

A new student leadership group in the special education department has developed out of a multicultural student, alumni and friends affinity group. After surveying alumni and current students in 2012 and again in 2014, and finding that students were interested in leadership roles, the department created a group with a student leadership focus.

The initial goal was to continue working as an affinity group focused on recruitment, retention and networking. In the past, some of these duties have included participation in the “Education for Everyone” event, planning a summer social and organizing a professional development event in the fall that is focused on diversity.

Shelley Nielsen Gatti, Ph.D., faculty member in the Special Education and Gifted Education Department, advises the group.

“After the group first met in November 2014 they decided to change their focus and introduce some new ideas,” Neilsen Gatti said.

The group – which is made up of two alumni, four current students, and two who participate electronically – felt it was important to develop a mentorship program for current students. This would allow alumni and students who are further along in the program to mentor current students at various stages of their schooling.

The group plans to have these mentors and mentees meet twice as a large group, at the beginning and end of each year, while meeting one-on-one throughout the rest of the year at the participants’ convenience. Starting this summer or fall, the student leadership group hopes to pilot the mentoship program to international students and Collaborative Urban Educator (CUE), a group that aims to increase diversity in the teaching workforce.

Another part of this initiative is meant to encourage students earning licenses in special education to continue with the master’s degree as well.

“We’d like for even more students to take advantage of the master’s degree,” Nielsen Gatti said. “We really want to encourage our students to continue on with their education; the advanced degree is only four extra credits, and it often results in a higher-paying position in the field.”

In addition to the peer mentoring program, student leaders also want to start midterm meetings with off-campus cohort students, in which a panel of alumni and students will offer advice and strategies for success in the program. In addition, four of these student leaders will now be represented on the advisory board. Nielsen Gatti said that she “believes it is extremely important for these students to have a voice on the board.”

The kickoff event for the new mentoring program will be announced at a later date. Contact Nielsen Gatti with any questions.