The U.S. Department of Education awarded $1.6 million to the University of Iowa for a new interdisciplinary project to merge the Special Education and Psychology fields together for an Education Specialist degree.
Associate Professor in Special Education Allison Leigh Bruhn, who is working on the program, said the goal is to offer rigorous training to help develop professionals to support kids with needs and disabilities in schools.
“Beyond just the typical program – a typical school psych program and a typical special ed program – these students are going to be integrated so it’s more of a collaborative approach,” she said. “It is important that psychology and special ed teachers know how to collaborate and work together.”
The degree is a step beyond a master’s degree in education but lower than doctorate degree.
Bruhn said that the program will have group assignments where there will be representations from special ed and psychology working together at the same time.
Associate Professor in Special Education Seth King, who specializes in Applied Behavior Analysis, said this program is a representation of how professionals would work together within the K-12 system. He said a school psychologist will be working with special educators and will be doing many things associated with special education and vice versa.
“If you have a program that really gets you very familiar with each discipline, that’s really going to prepare you to work in schools,” he said.
Associate Professor in Special Education Shawn Datchuk said this interdisciplinary work is important for students in K-12 systems.
“These two professions play instrumental roles and deliver important services for students with disabilities,” he said. “They play a large part at figuring out what are the best services that will help a student make progress during the school year.”
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Datchuk said in Iowa and in the U.S, there are shortages in both the special education and psychology fields. He said this grant is instrumental in encouraging Iowa students to go into this work.
King said Iowa has also been trying to increase the number of practitioners who are skilled in Applied Behavior Analysis because of the increase of individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Students in this program will go through the verified course sequence for applied behavior analysis, King said, which will diversify and expand students’ expertise.
The program will also bring the research to students by hosting the authors of the research the students are set to learn about in the program, King said. These researchers are internationally recognized specialists, and that kind of exposure to researchers in the field will be important in helping students understand techniques, he said.
Leigh said the money from the grant will be going towards students in the program. With the money, 18 students in the department will receive full tuition and a stipend. On top of that, they will also receive the opportunity to travel to professional development conferences.
Datchuk said that the grant helps with creating the program and encourages students to join.
“There are not enough people in these programs, so to highlight the fact that these are areas of need, the grant allows students to have their tuition covered and provides a small stipend,” he said. “I know it’s difficult to make ends meet, particularly now with the pandemic, so all of us on the grant are very happy to be able to cover all the tuition and a small stipend.”