Special ed alumni describes path from teaching to research

Gena Nelson, alumni of the special education program, PhD ‘17, is an assistant professor at Boise State University’s Department of Early and Special Education. Here she teaching methods and content area courses in the special education teacher preparation program, supervising pre-service teachers, and conducting a line of research related to math learning disabilities.

Nelson pursued an undergraduate degree in education and became a high school special education teacher after graduation. A few years into teaching, Nelson realized that she was interested in learning more about assessment and intervention. Initially, Nelson wanted to be a practicing school psychologist, and the MA and specialist certificate program in school psychology is what initially attracted her to the University of Minnesota. After getting involved in a research project related to developing math assessments, she knew that she wanted to pursue a Ph.D. so that she could be prepared for a career in special education research.

“I love to learn new things, and being a student at the University of Minnesota provided me with opportunities to work with and learn from faculty from different departments,” Nelson says. “It was also exciting to me to see that the work I was doing informed current practices in education and impacted student outcomes in a positive way.”

Nelson wants prospective students to know that, “It is okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your degree or what your specific research interests are when you start graduate school. Part of being a student is the process of developing your own interests and career goals. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try something new. Most importantly, be your own best advocate.”