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Special Education at the University of Utah
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Special education means specially designed instruction to ensure a free and appropriate education for students regardless of the extent or type of their disability. The Department of Special Education prepares special education teacher candidates and general education teacher candidates to work with students with disabilities in the areas of mild/moderate disabilities, severe disabilities, early childhood special education, vision impairments, and students who are deaf & hard of hearing. At the graduate level, the Department of Special Education prepares tomorrow's leaders in the field at both the master's and doctoral degree levels.

The preparation of teachers and leadership personnel includes adaptation of curriculum, accommodation to meet student needs, collaboration with schools and the community, assessment of student abilities, behavioral interventions, special education policy, and legal issues.

What's Happening in SPED

John McDonnellGREAT NEWS! Special Education professor John McDonnell (in collaboration with colleagues from Syracuse University, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and University of Kansas) was selected to receive an American Education Research Association Conference Award for their project, “Policy, Practice, and Long-Term Outcomes: The Current State and Future Directions of Research for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities”

Gnome in your home book coverSusan Johnston, Special Education professor, created a book to help teach children about doing small acts of kindness. “The Gnome in Your Home – A Tradition of Kindness” is an illustrated children’s book and plush toy inspired by Johnston’s own family’s experiences as well as her professional work.

Read more about Dr. Johnston and her book here >>

Jen CallJen Call is the 2016-17 recipient of the Molly Lawson Research Fellowship. Jennifer received her BS in early childhood/special education from BYU Idaho and her MEd in early childhood studies from Boise State University. She taught special education in preschool, first and second grades where she incorporated music into her classroom every day. Jennifer is obtaining her doctoral degree so she can have a positive impact on the lives of a larger number of young children with special needs and their families than she did as a teacher. Her goal is to work in teacher education, influencing pre-service teachers to value building solid relationships with student and partnering with their families.
The generous support of the Molly Lawson Fellowship is provided annually from the Molly Lawson Foundation and Dr. and Mrs. Michael Lawson. This prestigious award is made to one deserving student in the pursuit of a graduate degree in Special Education with particular interest in working in the areas of integrating arts into education and/or supporting families of children with disabilities.

Paige articleA special education preschool teacher at Copper Canyon Elementary in West Jordan, Utah, Paige Furbush is working towards her Master of Education at the U, where she also received her bachelor’s degree in the same field. Although she originally wasn’t planning to become a teacher, she ended up finding a career that was more rewarding than she had ever imagined. Read More>>

Catherine NelsonDr. Catherine Nelson receives the Virginia M. Sowell Award!

 The Virginia M. Sowell award is presented by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) Division on Multiple Disabilities and Deafblindness to those who have shown exemplary service to individuals with visual impairments and multiple disabilities, including deafblindness.

 Dr. Nelson was recognized for her (a) longitudinal record of work, (b) competence in the field, (c) development and implementation of innovative approaches, (c) willingness to share with others, and (d) contributions to the advancement of knowledge and understanding of the issues and needs relative to individuals with deafblindness/multiple disabilities.

 Congratulations to Dr. Nelson!

suchey-jensonSpecial Ed announces awards at Annual Spring Reception

Dr. Nicole Suchey To Receive Department of Special Education Distinguished Alumnus Award!

At this week’s Department of Special Education Spring Reception Dr. Nicole Suchey will receive the Department’s 2016 Distinguished Alumnus Award. Dr. Suchey received her PhD from the Department, and served as a career line faculty member supervising student teachers and teaching classes for a number of years. For the last several years Dr. Suchey has served as a literacy coach for the Salt Lake City School District. The Department is proud of her many accomplishments both while at the University as a student and faculty member, and during her time working in the schools. Our congratulations and best wishes to Nicole!

Dr. Bill Jenson to Receive Department of Special Education Jeanette Misaka Distinguished Service Award!

Dr. Bill Jenson is the recipient of the Department’s 2016 Jeanette Misaka Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Jenson has had a more than 40 year career in working to provide education and supports to students with autism spectrum disorders and emotional and behavioral disorders, and their families. He has a lengthy and distinguished record of scholarly research and publications, including hundreds of scholarly research articles, book chapters, and books. Dr. Jenson has also been the recipient of many state and federal research and training grants. He has a lengthy record of supervising master’s and doctoral students who have gone on to have substantial local, state, and national influence on services for students with disabilities. Dr. Jenson has also been an integral part of the College’s program to prepare Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). Dr. Jenson is well deserving of the Misaka Achievement Award. Our congratulations and best wishes to Dr. Jenson!

GREAT NEWS! The Department of Special Education has received an additional doctoral leadership training grant (our 2nd one in 2 years)! This new project, funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, is focused in the area of severe disabilities, and was spearheaded by Drs. John McDonnell and Matt Jameson.
Read more about this project >>

Jameson - McDonnellSpecial Education professors Jameson & McDonnell were awarded a USOE grant for the U of U Project to Alleviate Critical Educator Shortages in Severe Disabilities (ACES-SD). Read more about this grant >>


John McDonnell

John McDonnell receives the 2016 Ben Bruse Distinguished Service Award
The Ben Bruse Distinguished Service Award is given annually by the Utah Council for Exceptional Children to an individual in the state that has had a substantial impact on service, research, or education for children with disabilities. Dr. McDonnell was recognized for the impact that his research has had on improving educational programs for students with severe disabilities in Utah and nationally.

Congratulations to Dr. McDonnell

Chris BischkeThe Department of Special Education/Multi-University Consortium Teacher Preparation Program in Sensory Impairments has been awarded a Teacher Preparation Grant from the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education. This five year project will provide $1,244,230 to support the preparation of teachers who will work with students with sensory impairments (students who are Deaf and Hard of hearing, Visual Impairments and Deafblind). The grant will be managed by principal investigator Dr. Chris Bischke. Scholars will receive $5,000 per semester for up to six semesters.  Graduate scholars may be eligible for a tuition waiver. Interested persons can contact Dr. Bischke at (


Last Updated: 1/6/17