Category Archives: Special Education

Welcome to Ed Psych, Michelle Marchant-Wood!

Michelle Marchant Wood

We’re excited to welcome Michelle Marchant-Wood, Utah native and former associate professor in the special education program at Brigham Young University to Ed Psych! After moving to Minnesota, she began working as a research associate at the University of Minnesota for Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). Michelle managed an evaluation project with the Anoka Hennepin school district which was under the direction of Dr. Kimberly Gibbons.

When the opportunity afforded itself to teach special education again, she couldn’t pass it up.

“I always love interacting with college students. I love their excitement for being teachers. They’re eager to try new things.” Marchant-Wood says.

Currently, she teaches three educational psychology courses that keep her on her toes, (EPSY 5619: Students with Mild/Moderate Disabilities in Math, EPSY 5611: Research-Based Practices in Academic and Behavior Disabilities, and EPSY 5616: Behavior Analysis and Classroom Management).

“I’ve been impressed with the quality of students here. I taught at a private institution that is very difficult to get into (BYU has less than a 50% acceptance rate). I was interested in knowing what it was going to be like teaching at a state institution, but the quality of students here has been most impressive.”

She continues, “I also have really enjoyed getting to know the faculty here. They’re quality people and I have a lot to learn from them.”

Marchant-Wood wants prospective students to realize the great need and ample opportunities available in the field of special education Students are able to get jobs and make a difference.

“The faculty here are known throughout the country for the exceptional research they conduct, which takes a lot of time and effort. Prospective students need to know they’re going to have amazing opportunities here in Minnesota at this program.”

Outside of work, Marchant-Wood explores the cultural opportunities in the Twin Cities. She and her husband frequent orchestra hall and enjoy shows at the Guthrie. She also likes to stay active, by biking, running, and going to the lakes.

McComas to present on telehealth for individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities at BABAT 2017

Jennifer McComas

Jennifer McComas, associate chair and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Rodney S. Wallace Professor for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, was invited to present at this year’s Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis (BABAT) Conference on October 13.

McComas will present research she conducted with Department of Educational Psychology Ph.D. student Brittany Pennington and alumni Jessica Simacek and Adele Dimian on “Functional Communication Training for Individuals with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities: Breaking Down Geographic Barriers with Videoconferencing Technology.”

McComas’ research is primarily focused on the influence of behavioral mechanisms and social context on severe problem behavior and academic difficulties and the acquisition and persistence of pro-social behavior. She is head of the special education emotional and behavioral disorders licensure and M.Ed. and is launching a new M.A. in special education with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis (A.B.A.) now open for applications for fall 2018.

The Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis (BABAT) Conference has been hosted at UMass (Amherst) every year for 30 years. The conference brings together professionals, teachers, students, and persons interested in the areas of behavior analysis, autism, developmental disabilities, ethics, behavioral medicine, staff development, and more. BABAT is an affiliated chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis International and of the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts serve as a resource for behavior analysts and those interested in behavior analysis in the northeast region.

Vukovic presents research on math skills and attitudes of children with reading difficulties

Rose Vukovic

Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, was invited by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to present her research on “Math Skills and Attitudes of Children with Reading Difficulties” at the STEM Education, Learning Disabilities, and the Science of Dyslexia conference in Washington, D.C. on September 26.

Following the conference, Vukovic was quoted in two articles by Education Week“Reading and Math: Two Sides of the Same Coin” and “Researchers Probe Connections between Math, Reading Research” on her research.

“When we say ‘learning disabilities’, we are mostly talking about reading,” Vukovic told Education Week. “We have to pay attention to other facets as well. We can’t do reading to the exclusion of everything else.”

This was the first ever STEM Education, Learning Disabilities, and the Science of Dyslexia conference. Hosted by the Instructional Research Group and supported by National Science Foundation researchers, the conference was started to help support the READ Act (Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia Act) which passed in  February 2016 to facilitate research on dyslexia. The aim of the conference is to encourage collaborations among researchers involved in dyslexia and learning disability research, especially those connected with science, engineering, mathematics, and technology.

 

Special education bachelor’s degree program ranked third in nation

The special education bachelor of science degree and academic and behavioral strategist (A.B.S.) licensure program in the Department of Educational Psychology within the College of Education and Human Development has been recognized as the number three special education undergraduate program in the nation.

The results are produced by Best Education Degrees, whose mission is to provide information on the best schools specializing in educational degrees and to enable, empower, and enhance the careers of education professionals and education students alike.

According to Best Education Programs, special education programs were ranked based on their reputation, tuition, academic support per student, and average early salary ten years after graduation. Scores were determined by examining specific data points from organizations such as the National Center for Education StatisticsU.S. News and World Report, and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Payscale was used to determine average salaries. Best Education Degrees collected the data and assigned a total score for each school based on the criteria.

The special education bachelor of science degree and A.B.S. licensure program was launched in fall 2014. The program is unique in that graduates earn their degree and teaching license in just four years and have the opportunity to study alongside leaders in the field of special education.

Scholarships are available for undergraduates interested in special education.

  • Incoming first-year special education students are automatically considered for the Campbell Scholarship for Education. Visit the Office of Admissions scholarships page for more information on this and additional CEHD scholarships available to incoming first-year students.
  • Each year through 2018-19, the Schulze Future Teacher Scholars Program will award scholarships of up to $10,000 to eligible undergraduate students, including students from the special education program.

See the full list of rankings.

Learn more about the bachelor’s degree in special education.

 

 

 

Kendeou, McMaster co-author Psychology Today post on role of inferences in reading comprehension

Panayiota Kendeou, Guy Bond Chair in Reading and associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s psychological foundations of education program, and Kristen McMaster, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program,  recently wrote a blog post for Psychology Today.

In the blog post, Kendeou and McMaster shared their research on the use of educational technology to help students in grades K-2 make inferences—a skill that helps improve reading comprehension.  The blog post details the two intelligent tutoring system technologies the duo and their team are developing as part of their U.S. Department of Education funded grants.

Read the full blog post in Psychology Today.

Get more information on the Kendeou and McMaster’s intelligent tutoring systems.

Dr. Samuel Odom gives talk, ‘Running with the Wolves of Special Education’

Dr. Samuel L. Odom speaks on special education topics at scholar talk.

On September 1, 2017, educational psychology students, faculty, and staff gathered for a scholar talk featuring Dr. Samuel L. Odom, director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Education. The talk, “Running with the Wolves in Special Education: Colleagues, Science, and Practice” covered today’s issues in special education and best research and teaching practices.

Dr. Odom has authored or co-authored over one hundred publications, and edited or co-edited over eleven books on early childhood intervention and developmental disabilities. His research addressed topics related to early childhood inclusion and preschool readiness. Currently, his research focuses on autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

From Geoff and Jennifer: A note on these turbulent times

Dear Educational Psychology students, staff, and faculty,

Welcome newcomers and welcome back to those of you who are returning members of our community. As we welcome you back, we feel it is important to recognize the turbulent times in which we live.  These times challenge us all to become better people.

To begin, we affirm University President Kaler’s statement on August 17, 2017: “We support President Teresa Sullivan and the entire University of Virginia community, and we offer our sympathy to the families of those killed and those injured. Let it be perfectly clear that at the University of Minnesota there is no place for hate, we do not tolerate bigotry, and we denounce in the strongest terms the racist and anti-Semitic message of white supremacy.” Further, we denounce any discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual identity, disability, or age.

At our faculty retreat earlier this week, we shared a story that we found in a book we were reading, and share it here, for it encourages us to consider what we need to do to be a safe and inspiring place.

“One evening a Native American elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, and superiority. The other is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

It is with a spirit of respect and gratitude that we welcome you and the diverse views, experiences, and backgrounds that we collectively bring to our community. We are happy to have each of you with us this year, and hope that collectively we can feed the right wolf.

The faculty and staff of the Educational Psychology department have spent the past year closely examining our values.  Our top three values are reflected in the College of Education and Human Development’s first three goals:

  1. To provide a transformative student experience for success in a global society.
  2. To intensify efforts to be a diverse, inclusive, and equitable college.
  3. To generate, translate, and disseminate groundbreaking research in areas of high societal need.

Our expectation is that, as members of the Educational Psychology department community, each of us will make every effort to live our values and achieve these goals in our work and in our interactions with others. In particular, we want our culture to be one in which everyone is respectful of others’ views, experiences, and backgrounds, for undoubtedly some will hold views different from our own. Hate speech and related micro-aggressive behaviors have no place amidst respectful exchanges of ideas; they are inconsistent with the Department’s values and contrary to the College’s goals. We expect our community to be a safe harbor from uncivil discourse and behavior.

The recent tragic events in Houston remind us of our common humanity, and provide a model where differing views are irrelevant. If we can remember the common humanity displayed in Houston, perhaps we will be better able to accept and learn from those with whom we disagree.  Our community shares a love for learning. Each of us has something to learn as well as something to share. So let us choose to share our stories, explore varied perspectives, be enriched by our differences, and go forward together to achieve our individual and collective goals.

Warmly,

Geoff Maruyama, Ph.D.                                             Jennifer J. McComas, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair                                                   Professor and Associate Chair

McConnell participates in Small Talk on closing the word gap in Minnesota

McConnell participates in panel discussion with members of the Think Small team (photo courtesy of Think Small)

Scott McConnell, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program and program coordinator for the counseling and student personnel psychology program, recently joined a group of early childhood experts from Think Small, an organization which provides service, resources, and advocacy for early childhood education in Minnesota, to discuss the impact that early conversations have on a child’s life.

During the “Small Talk” led by Think Small president and CEO, Barbara Yates, McConnell defined the word gap. He shared that research around the word gap began in the early 90s with a study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. The two University of Kansas researchers wanted to find out why students from low-income families continued to lag behind students from wealthy families later in school despite best efforts to make preschool more accessible for all children.  Hart and Risley, McConnell explained, found  a significant difference in the total number of words spoken to children of rich and poor families by the age of three. In fact by age four, children in professional families had heard almost 45 million words on average, while children in families who were on welfare had heard an average of only 13 million words.

McConnell went on to discuss how Hart and Risley’s work is continuing through new technologies. He described one technology he is helping implement and evaluate—LENA Start, a parent education program for parents and family child care providers in the Twin Cities. Families using the LENA system, have their children wear vests which, according to McConnell, act as “word pedometers.” These vests automatically monitor the quantity of words and conversations in a young children’s language environment. Parents and childcare providers regularly review the vests’ measurements, encouraging parents to talk to their children more.

Think Small panelists, Dianne Haulcy, senior vice president for family engagement, and Gerri Fisher, parent engagement coordinator, shared Think Small’s focus on helping childcare providers increase parent engagement which led them to work with McConnell and LENA Start. Finally, both women shared their positive experiences using the LENA system to work with parents and students and close the word gap.

For more information on the word gap, visit MNTalks! or the Bridging the Word Gap Research Network. 

Minnesota gathers to address social emotional learning at Educational Equity in Action II

Attendees visit in between sessions at Educational Equity in Action.

On June 20 and 21, roughly 500 of Minnesota’s education leaders, researchers, policy makers, and nonprofit organizations gathered at Educational Equity in Action II. This was the second convening hosted by the University of Minnesota. Its focus: improving educational equity by “Working across schools and communities to enhance social emotional learning.”

Opening keynote

Brokenleg leads a small group discussion following his keynote.

Dr. Martin Brokenleg, Co-author of the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future and co-developer of the Circle of Courage model, explained that trauma from oppression, like that experienced by the American Indian community, can span generations.

“Our culture is plagued by intergenerational trauma,” said Brokenleg, whose mother’s family was among those imprisoned at Fort Snelling. He cited the incredibly high suicide rate among Native people, especially in the 18-30 age group, and among people in Ireland and Scotland after generations of oppression by the British, whose methods not coincidentally were adopted by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. “We’ve had a normal human reaction to an abnormal history.”

Brokenleg described his Circle of Courage model which supports character building or “teaching the heart” through generosity, belonging, independence, and mastery. Brokenleg finished his talk with practical strategies from Circle of Courage attendees could take back to their schools and communities to help young people—especially those suffering from intergenerational trauma—learn and grow.

Plenary

Members of Rodriguez’s Minnesota Youth Development (MYDRG)

Dr. Michael Rodriguez, professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, Jim and Carmen Campbell Leadership Chair in Education and Human Development, and co-director of the Educational Equity Resource Center and the covening, led a plenary discussion on the results of the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS).

Rodriguez explained, although  at a high-level the MSS tells a positive story about the developmental skills and supports of Minnesota youth, a closer look at the data demonstrates the reality of the inequities some students experience in Minnesota’s education system. This is particularly apparent for students identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB); students who skip school; students who receive disciplinary action in school; and students who have experienced trauma.

“Ninety-nine percent of our youth say their goal is to graduate from high school—and 65 to 85 percent across demographic groups also want to go to college,” said Rodriguez. “That’s a lot higher than our state’s high school graduation goal for them, which is now about 90 percent by 2020!”

He emphasized that students’ own goals are higher than those we’ve set as a state.

Following the plenary, students in Rodriguez’s Minnesota Youth Development Research Group (MYDRG) led detailed discussions on the MSS results for some of these groups, including: American Indian students, Hmong students, students in special education, LGB students, and students experiencing trauma.

Download presentations from the convening on the MYDRG website.

Breakout sessions

Dr. Clayton Cook leads a discussion on school climate.

Throughout the convening, participants selected from 28 smaller group breakout sessions on social-emotional learning led by University of Minnesota researchers, youth engagement groups, school districts, the Minneapolis Department of Education, and more. Several sessions included youth as presenters and/or  focused on youth participatory action research projects.

Small group discussions

Attendees share their educational equity challenges in small groups.

Before the final keynote, attendees participated in a process called TRIZ. They met in small groups—dividing themselves up based on the different developmental skills and supports students need to be successful (identified in Rodriguez’s work). Participants started with the unusual task of listing actions communities might take to destroy the skill being discussed in youth. Then, they shared opportunities they had to remove some of these destructive activities and developed action plans for their schools, communities, and organizations.

View TRIZ sampling responses for destructive actions and action steps.

Action commitments

At the final session participants responded to the statement “I am committed to” with their commitments to take action on educational equity.

Closing keynote

Khalifa gives the final keynote at Educational Equity in Action.

Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, associate professor in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, closed out the convening by challenging the group to practice culturally responsive school leadership (CRSL). He asked that school leaders promote schooling that addresses the specific cultural and learning needs of students by focusing on the perspectives of parents, students, and community members.

“Change in schools can be promoted and fostered by ‘leaders,’ but culturally responsive school leadership is practiced by all stakeholders,” said Khalifa. “Community-based based knowledge informs good leadership practice.”

In this statement, Khalifa connected his keynote to Rodriguez’ and Brokenleg’s work. Each of the speakers stressed the importance of listening to all members of our community to improve educational equity.

Khalifa ended his talk by sharing strategies to help attendees to achieve CRSL in their own schools, organizations, and communities.

View an artist’s interpretation of Khalifa’s keynote by Jen Mein.

Thank you to our sponsors

The Educational Equity in Action convening was created by the University of Minnesota’s Educational Equity Resource Center. This year’s event was organized in partnership with the University’s Office for Equity and Diversity and made possible by the Minneapolis Foundation, Youthprise, Jim and Carmen Campbell Leadership Chair in Education & Human Development, College of Education and Human Development, Department of Educational Psychology, and the College Readiness Consortium.

Wackerle-Hollman, McConnell partner with SPPS on $400,000 grant to develop language measures for Hmong preschool students

Two researchers in the Department of Educational Psychology, Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, senior research associate in school psychology, and Scott McConnell, professor of special educationalong with Lori Erickson, assistant director in St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) Office of Early Learning, and colleagues—recently received a $400,000, two-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences (IES). Their grant, “Addressing the Growing Diversity of Preschool Populations through Low Incidence Language Barriers: Hmong Language Development to Improve Assessment Approaches,” aims to explore, understand, and document Hmong language development.

“Our IGDILab team is pleased to partner with SPPS on such an important venture. We jointly recognize the importance of Hmong language development to the local community and look forward to learning how early language development affects young Hmong-English bilingual students’ language and literacy development,” said McConnell.

Wackerle-Hollman and Erickson will co-lead the project, focusing on the community’s expertise in Hmong language to understand how the language develops. St Paul is home to the largest urban Hmong population in the nation and nearly a quarter of enrolled SPPS students are Hmong. They’ll use these findings to develop a Hmong language version of the Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs)brief, easy to use measures of early language and literacy designed for use with preschool children. The new measures will be used by educators to assess Hmong preschool children’s early language and literacy skills.

“IGDILab continues to pursue the development of  meaningful measures for communities that are underserved, including bilingual students,” said Wackerle-Hollman. “This began with early language and literacy measures for Spanish-speaking students and continues through our partnership with St. Paul public schools to develop high quality measures for Hmong students.”

IGDILab is a research lab at the University of Minnesota led by Wackerle-Hollman and McConnell. The lab researches, designs, and tests IGDI measures to support data-based decision making by teachers, early childhood professionals, parents, and others to help improve early childhood outcomes. IGDILab has secured over $5 million in funding in the past decade to pursue complementary research including the assessment of English and Spanish language and early literacy development for children three, four, and five years of age as well as supporting resources to facilitate data-based decisions using scores derived from IGDIs.

Now accepting applications: Third Annual Diversity in Psychology Program

The Institute of Child Development (ICD) and the Department of Educational Psychology are pleased to support the 3rd Annual Diversity in Psychology Program at the University of Minnesota (UMN).

The program is sponsored by the UMN Department of Psychology and the College of Liberal Arts with support from ICD and the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development.

The Diversity in Psychology Program is designed for individuals who are historically under-represented in psychology graduate programs and who are interested in learning about graduate training in psychology, child psychology, and educational/school psychology at the University of Minnesota.

The program will feature a coordinated set of formal and informal experiences designed to familiarize participants with strategies for constructing successful graduate school applications, and to provide them with the opportunity to learn more about the experience of graduate education in UMN psychology departments.

To be eligible to apply, individuals must:

  • be enrolled in a college or university as a junior or senior, or who have graduated within the last two years (i.e., 2015 or thereafter). Individuals currently enrolled in a terminal masters-level graduate program in psychology are also eligible.
  • identify as a member of groups underrepresented in graduate training in psychology, including ethnic and racial minority groups, low-income backgrounds, persons with disability, LGBTQ+, military veterans, and first-generation college students or graduates.

Individuals must also meet one of the following criteria:

  • be committed to pursuing doctoral training in either child psychology or educational/school psychology. OR
  • be committed to pursuing doctoral training in psychology in one of the following programs of research offered by the Department of Psychology: clinical science and psychopathology; counseling psychology; cognitive and brain sciences; industrial/organizational psychology; personality, individual differences, and behavior genetics; quantitative psychology/psychometric methods; or social psychology.

Learn more about how to apply.

GIFTED program receives $35,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation

this year's GIFTED cohort
This year’s GIFTED cohort

The Ghanaian Institute for the Future of Teaching & Education (GIFTED) Women’s Fellowship Fostering program has been awarded a $35,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman. The award to the GIFTED program was made by Newman’s Own Foundation as part of its commitment to the empowerment of individuals.

The grant to GIFTED will be used to host a national educational conference in Accra, Ghana that showcases the leadership projects and impact the 36 GIFTED Fellows have made in their schools and communities. In addition, the funding will be used to continue to support the leadership network that is being overseen by the University of Education at Winneba.

Focused on strengthening the leadership capacity and visibility of female educators as leaders within the Ghanaian public education system, GIFTED provides professional development, ongoing support, and leadership training to 12 women educators per year. These GIFTED fellows participate in a year-long transformational leadership curriculum, where they develop and implement action projects that support educational outcomes in their schools.

GIFTED was started in June 2013 and is a collaboration between New York University (NYU), the University of Minnesota, the University of Education Winneba, and Mujeres por Africa and is sponsored by Banco Santander.

Dr. Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Educational Psychology and associate professor in the special education program at the University of Minnesota is co-principal investigator on the project, which is led by Kristie Patten Koenig, co-principal investigator from NYU. Local partners are Sakina Aquah and Priscilla Yaaba Ackah from the University of Education, Winneba.

CEHD research on early detection of autism cited in NIH Director’s Blog

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Blog recently referenced a study Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program and Jed Elison from the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development worked on with colleagues across the country. The NIH post, “Autism spectrum disorder: progress toward earlier diagnosis,” discusses the groups’ research using functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) to monitor brain activity in infants less than six months old. Their study suggests certain biomarkers may help us predict which high-risk infants will develop autism by age two.

“For those parents who still find themselves worrying about a possible connection between ASD and vaccines, despite study after study showing there’s no link, these new findings come as further reassurance,” NIH director, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. writes in his post. “The biological foundations for ASD are present in the brains of children who will develop ASD-related behaviors from very early in life,” he continues. “The best way to keep all kids healthy and protected is to have them vaccinated on schedule.”

Read the full blog post on the NIH Director’s Blog.

CEHD researchers use brain scans to predict autism in high-risk, 6-month-old infants

L-R: Jed Elison, Jason Wolff

College of Education and Human Development researchers contributed to a new study that suggests that patterns of brain activity in high-risk, 6-month-old babies may accurately predict which of them will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 2.

The new study was published in Science Translational Medicine and led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, and Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, were study co-authors. The study was conducted by the IBIS Network and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Approximately one out of 68 school-aged children in the U.S. has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and their younger siblings are at a higher risk of developing the condition. “These findings need to be replicated, but that said, we are very excited about the potential to leverage cutting edge technology to advance the search for the earliest signs of autism,” Elison said.

For the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the brain’s functional connectivity – or how different brain regions work together – in high-risk, 6-month-old infants. The infants were considered high-risk because they have an older sibling with autism. Overall, 59 high-risk infants were included in the study. Eleven of the infants were diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old and 48 were not.

The researchers applied machine learning algorithms to the infants’ brain scans to identify patterns that separated them into the two groups. They then applied the algorithm to each of the infants to predict which infants would later be diagnosed with ASD. The algorithm correctly predicted nine of the 11 infants who were later diagnosed with ASD and all 48 of the infants who were not later diagnosed with the condition.

According to the researchers, if replicated, the results could provide a clinically valuable tool for detecting ASD in high-risk infants before symptoms set in. This in turn would allow researchers to test the effectiveness of interventions on a population of high-risk infants who have been identified as having a greater risk of ASD based on their brain scan at 6 months of age.

“The researchers will now try to confirm their findings in larger groups of children. But they already have provided proof of principle that it’s possible to detect ASD long before children show the first visible signs of the condition,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., wrote in a blog about the study. “The findings could pave the way for developing more cost-effective mobile neuroimaging tools, which might be used in early ASD screening.”

In February 2017, Elison and Wolff contributed to a separate study that used MRI scans of high-risk infants conducted at 6 and 12 months of age to accurately predict which infants would later meet criteria for ASD at age 2. The method used in the new study would only require one scan at 6 months of age.

“This is really interdisciplinary science at its very best, and I anticipate it will eventually lead to improved outcomes for children and families,” Wolff said. “The ability to predict autism in infancy opens the door for something that has long been improbable: pre-symptomatic intervention.”

Rose Vukovic receives ‘Thank a Teacher’ note from student

Rose Vukovic headshot
Rose Vukovic

The Center for Education Innovation’s (CEI), Thank a Teacher program allows students to provide unsolicited feedback by sending thank you notes to teachers who make a positive difference on their achievement and development. Dr. Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies and associate professsor in the special education program continues to impact students’ lives. Recently, she received an official letter from CEI with a “thank you” note from a former student.

The note reads:

“Hello, Dr. Vukovic!

I’m writing to thank you for all of your support and encouragement when I was taking your class, EPSY 2601, in Spring 2015. You encouraged me to do the Blind Inclusion in group work presentation to help my classmates know how to interact with me. That was a small presentation, and I just finished studying English.

I’m happy to inform you that now I have developed 3 big trainings on how to interact with people with visual impairments, starting with access assistants, then one for professors, and now I’m working on one for students in college-level settings to help everyone take an action to make people with disability feel included in this university. I may not have done all of these projects if you had not given me the chance to present in class.

You saw my strengths even though I just finished studying English and my grammar writing wasn’t too strong. I would like to thank you so much for everything you have done for me. I will never forget how you inspired me. A huge thank you for you and wishing you all the best!

– Roqayah”

Have you had a teacher that has made a difference in your education? Thank them here.

Vukovic, colleagues host leadership institute for Ghanaian female educators

this year's GIFTED cohort
This year’s GIFTED cohort

From May 29 to June 6, Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Educational Psychology  and associate professor in the special education program at the University of Minnesota and Kristie Patten Koenig, associate professor and chair of Occupational Therapy at New York University (NYU)–Steinhardt—along with Sakina Aquah and Priscilla Yaaba Ackah from University of Education, Winneba—hosted a leadership institute for a group of female teachers from Ghana. The work is part of the Ghanaian Institute for the Future of Teaching and Education (GIFTED) which is supported by the larger Ghana Wins! project, a professional development program that aims to build capacity in women leaders in education.

This year’s GIFTED cohort attended a week-long workshop in New York City to analyze the results of their leadership action projects to support educational outcomes in Ghanaian schools. They visited local schools and participated in “coffee talks” with NYU faculty on women and leadership. The educators also had the opportunity experience American culture by doing things like eating pizza, taking the subway, and visiting the Statue of Liberty.  The culmination of their training happened on June 2 when they sharing the resulted of their leadership action projects in an educational symposium at NYU –Steinhardt. Here are just a few examples of the work they are doing in Ghanaian schools.

  • Slimba, head teacher, Supporting Education for Muslim Girls: Slimba is engaging the community chief, the Imam, the Parent Teacher Association, parents and several local mosques to increase the enrollment of Muslim girls in her school.
  • Patience, primary school teacher, Market Day Attendance: Upper primary school students often miss school on market days to work at the market. To improve attendance, Patience is engaging these students through cultural dance and drama performances.
  • Serwaa, primary school teacher, Single Mothers Support Groups: Serwaa has created a social support network for single mothers in her school community. By organizing sessions that aim to build a supportive community for single mothers, she hopes to increase the school attendance of their children.

Read the GIFTED newsletter for more examples of leadership action projects.

Following the educational symposium, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development hosted a reception honoring the achievements of the group.

Future work

This summer, Kristen McMaster, coordinator and professor in the special education program at the University of Minnesota, will travel to Ghana with the group to help the GIFTED fellows work on peer assisted leadership strategies (PALS). According to the Institute for Learning Sciences, PALS is a peer-tutoring instructional program that supplements the primary reading curriculum by pairing students who work together on reading activities intended to improve reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.

About GIFTED

Focused on strengthening the leadership capacity and visibility of female educators as leaders within the Ghanaian public education system, GIFTED provides professional development, on-going support, and leadership training to 12 women educators per year. These GIFTED fellows participate in a year-long transformational leadership curriculum, where they develop and implement action projects that support educational outcomes in their schools. GIFTED was started in June 2013 and is a collaboration between NYU, the University of Minnesota , the University of Education Winneba, and Mujeres por Africa and is sponsored by Banco Santander.

Vukovic is co-principal investigator on the project which led by Kristie Patten Koenig, principal investigator from NYU.  Local partners are Sakina Aquah and Priscilla Yaaba Ackahat from the University of Education, Winneba.

Special education student receives Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle award

Andrea Boh

Andrea Boh, Ph.D. student in the special education program in the Department of Educational Psychology, has been awarded a Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC) award for graduate students.

The WPLC award is for women graduate students to recognize their achievements and successes in their field of interest. The criteria for the award includes academic achievements, community involvement, leadership, and passion for the academic and professional career of choice.

Since starting the Ph.D. program, Ms. Boh has taught multiple educational psychology courses, including EPsy 5361, 5362, and 5633. Additionally, she worked with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) as a Leadership in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) fellow. This experience allowed her to design and develop a project that focused on determining the extent to which Minnesota Licensed Childcares are conducting standardized developmental screening. As a research assistant on Dr. Veronica Fleury’s team, she investigated caregiver and child engagement in book reading for both children with typical development and those with an autism spectrum disorder.

Working with Dr. LeAnne Johnson as a research assistant in the coming year, Ms. Boh will coach and support early childhood special educators implementing an intervention aimed at remediating core deficits in preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder.

Former Vukovic student accepts tenure-track position at Stanford University

Steven O. Roberts, Ph.D. received his undergraduate degree in Applied Psychology from New York University (NYU) in 2012. It was there he first worked with Rose Vukovic, current director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in the special education program in the Department of Educational Psychology. Robert’s experience with Vukovic inspired him to pursue more research opportunities and earn a Ph.D. in developmental psychology at University of Michigan. In July, Roberts will begin work at Stanford University as an assistant professor of psychology.

In an interview by NYU, Roberts highlights his undergraduate experience working with Vukovic.

“My experience at NYU was fabulous. I had the wonderful opportunity of working with Rose K. Vukovic. We did work on low-income minority children and their mathematics achievements. I was very involved in the process, by working closely with the schools in New York City. Eventually, Rose gave me the opportunity to work on an honors thesis on the topic, which introduced me to the research process,” says Roberts.

Through research, Roberts learned valuable skills to be successful in this field.

“The research process helped me learn how to engage with children while collecting data and conducting interviews. It taught me about data entry, management, and analysis. More importantly, the research process taught me how to write up scientific work. I presented my thesis at a few conferences, which helped teach me how to share my research with the scientific community.”

Read the full interview.

Jitendra: Creating better strategies for teaching math word problems

Asha Jitendra

Asha Jitendra, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program recently authored an article in CEHD Vision 20:20 about her work with schema-based instruction, which teaches students to focus on the underlying structure of math word problems.

I became interested in looking for better ways to teach math problems because of my daughter, who suffered brain damage in early childhood which inhibited her development of language skills. Despite this delay in developing language, she showed great understanding of mathematical concepts at an early age…However, she continued to have a difficult time solving math word problems,” says Jitendra.

Read the full article.

KARE 11 asks Jason Wolff: ‘Do vaccines cause autism?’

Jason Wolff

In a recent interview with KARE 11 News reporter Kent Ehrdahl, Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program and coordinator for the autism spectrum disorder certificate program, was asked, “Do vaccines cause autism?”

“I can’t really think of something that we’ve delved into more than this to settle it,” Wolff told Ehrdahl. “There are well over 100 studies that have shown there is no link between vaccines and autism, and they’ve looked at every possible side of that issue, and they’ve found nothing time and time again.”

Wolff went on to cite his recent research on the development of autism spectrum disorder with assistant professor Jed Elison from the Institute of Child Development and other colleagues across the country.

“We found that the brain is changing in autism, probably before six months of age, and certainly by six months of age,” Wolff explained. “This is well before children are receiving a lot of their vaccines…. autism develops slowly over time, probably starts in utero.”

Watch the full KARE 11 News segment.