Tag: Department of Special and Early Education

People with visual impairments might score romance on Tinder, SEED researchers discover

jvib-coverMen with visual disabilities are more likely to find dates on Tinder than are women with visual disabilities, according to a study by professors and their graduate research assistants in the NIU Department of Special and Early Education.

Published in the July-August issue of the Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness, NIU’s research explores questions of whether sighted individuals are opposed to dating persons who are blind, and whether Tinder is a good vehicle to facilitate such interactions.

Researchers at NIU created eight individual Tinder profiles featuring four NIU College of Education graduate students – two men and two women, all in their early- to mid-20s – and then posted two photos of each during four separate test periods.

Half of the photos depict the students as they appear normally. In the others pictures, however, they are wearing sunglasses and holding white canes. Their clothing is the same in both photos.

Only one photo of each student was posted at any one time; “blind” and “sighted” photos were not posted simultaneously.

No written descriptions that would include personal interests, favorite things or other information were provided. Because Tinder allows users to choose a distance within which they are willing to travel for dates, NIU researchers established a radius of 50 miles from DeKalb.

When the first group of profiles were “live” on the popular dating app in the spring of 2015, the profile of the man with visual disabilities received five more “likes” than did the same man without sunglasses or cane. However, the sighted woman in that same round of testing received 14 more “likes” when she wasn’t pictured with sunglasses and cane.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

During the second round, in the fall of 2015, those numbers respectively rose to nine and 58.

The percentage of “likes” for the male profiles are quite low – from 2 to 4 percent of the total 700 swipes – while the same percentages for the women range from 39 to 68 percent. Researchers attribute this to “cultural norms which dictate that men are to approach women.”

Stacy Kelly, as associate professor in the Vision Program of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, says the study shows how sighted people view people with visual impairments as potential romantic partners.

The research also demonstrates the power of the Internet to connect people and to open personal and professional doors, she says.

“It makes you a whole person. It makes your life full,” Kelly says. “We want people who are blind to have a level playing field with their counterparts who are sighted. So much of social networking is visual in nature.”

And despite Tinder’s emphasis on photos, she says, people with visual impairments do use the app to seek romantic partners.

“They’re human,” she says, “and we know that they can be socially isolated. We know that they can struggle later in life financially, or become unemployed. And Tinder is free to use.”

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Co-authors on the study are Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the NIU Vision Program; Tom Smith, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment; and Kylie Kilmer, a graduate student in the Vision Program.

Kapperman, who is visually impaired, knows from a lifetime of conversations with others with visual impairments that they find the dating scene difficult – something that hasn’t changed following the advent of social media.

“Girls who are blind, when they have tried to initiate some kind of relationship with guys, and when they are honest in their profiles, get no takers,” Kapperman says.

One woman with visual impairments told Kapperman that she hid her blindness from a potential suitor, who discovered the truth when he came to her front door to pick her up for a date. He did not take the surprise well, the professor says, and left alone.

“I always advise people to be upfront about it,” Kapperman says.

The research project reinforces NIU’s standing as a global leader in promoting and leveraging assistive technology for people with visual impairments, she adds.

A five-year, $1.25 million U.S. Department of Education grant awarded last year to NIU will fund the preparation of students to receive the Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist designation – the new national standard – from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

Stacy Kelly and studentsNIU is the first university to offer a course of study toward the CATIS designation, something that leads to greater empowerment of people with visual disabilities as they are taught how to use the latest innovations.

“For people who have access to assistive technology, their whole, entire world opens up,” Kelly says. “Assistive technology gets them through the workday. It gets them through the weekend. People really can be limited if they can’t connect to the technology.”

Kelly and her cohorts plan to repeat their research to create a larger sample from which to draw data. “We see this study and the findings as just the beginning,” she says. “We are now developing a line of research that no one else has considered.”



Vision Program alum rekindles love of ice skating with Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison had spent most of his young life on the ice in pursuit of one dream.

“I was always a figure skater. I was always training. I was getting my degree at the same time – my undergraduate degree – but I had no real direction,” says Allison, 28, a Wheaton native who was studying liberal arts at the College of DuPage.

Yet fate had a direction in mind for him, whether he wanted it or not. “I had a bad skate at Nationals, and skating sort of fell out,” he says. “I took time off to rethink my career, and my mom said, ‘Hey, you need to get a job since you’re not skating anymore.’ ”

So he went to work alongside his mother, Joan, at a suburban school for the visually impaired where she is employed. There – pun intended – his eyes opened.

“First week there, I fell in love in with it,” Allison says. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

Allison transferred from COD to NIU, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. He then enrolled in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education, where in 2015 he earned a master’s degree in the Vision Program and certification as an Orientation and Mobility specialist.

cps-logoWork is never hard to find for graduates of NIU’s program – most student have three job offers on the table as they complete their studies – and Allison promptly became an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and a certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist in the Chicago Public Schools.

He served in 25 different schools last year, teaching around 30 students how to use their white canes and how to navigate independently. This year, he is delivering that curriculum, as well as literacy in Braille, to four children at Mount Greenwood Elementary School.

Teaching is now his dream come true.

“I never thought I would be an educator,” Allison says. “I really do love working with kids. When I was growing up, I loved coaching them – I’ve coached figure skating for almost eight years now – and I just fell in love with it. It’s become a passion.”

But the ice retains its allure.

Allison is a coach of the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team, which boasts 20 players ages “4 to 30-something” with varying degrees of visual impairments.

blind-hockey-team

“When I first heard about this, I thought it was one of those things where they were just trying to get kids who were visually impaired to do something,” he says. “My life has always been on ice, so I brought my skates over to check it out. I saw that it was legit. I saw they had a goal and that they had a drive to make this work.”

The players were working on drills like a sighted hockey team, chasing and shooting a larger-than-normal puck made of steel with ball bearings inside that creates a hollow, tinny noise. At the end of their practice, they scrimmaged.

He knew he had to become involved. “I talked with the guy in charge; his name was Mike Svac. I told him, ‘I’m a TVI. I’ve been on skates my whole life. How can I help?’ ”

Part of the practice time is devoted to navigating the rink.

“We’re trying to get the skaters aware of the ice surface; its dimensions; its width; its length,” Allison says. “We do drills going up and down the ice, and they sort of build a visual map – for lack of a better term – inside of the brain. They figure out where things are. We do a lot of drills based around the net. We pass to the skaters, and then they circle back and shoot. We’re making them better skaters.”

NIU’s “phenomenal” preparation has served him well, he adds.

blackhawks-logo-2“The thing that made me notice how well I was prepared for this field was in seeing how other people who weren’t educated in this field try to instruct the visually impaired. They say, ‘Over here. Over there.’ It doesn’t work like that,” he says.

“I had great instructors at Northern who made certain that the content development was there, that we needed to teach these kids with concrete demonstrations that they’re able to understand,” he adds. “If a coach is explaining something, and they don’t quite get it, we use hand-over-hand technique to show how to move the puck, how to pass.”

That way, Allison says, the skater or the student learns those concepts that sighted persons develop incidentally.

Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the College of Education’s Vision Program, admires what Allison and his colleague are doing with the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team.

“Most of us blind people, if not nearly all of us, have never been on ice skates,” Kapperman says. “Kevin and his fellow coaches have developed a pretty innovative way in adapting the sport of hockey so blind people can play it.”

Blind hockey is growing in momentum across the country and to the north, says Allison, who credits Svac as the linchpin getting the organization going and growing.

Allison saw the sport played recently at the Disabled Hockey Festival in San Jose, Calif., where he also watched hockey played by people who are deaf and by people without legs. Meanwhile, he says, a group in Canada is working to develop better pucks for those with visual disabilities.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

“We’re just seeing that there’s a community beyond what’s in Chicago right now. We’re talking to people in Pittsburgh. We’re talking to people in Texas. We’re trying to make this bigger. We want to be a league,” he says. “Chicago is hosting the Disabled Hockey Festival in 2018, and we’re just trying to get the word out. That’s our big thing right now. Our goal by 2020 is to go over the globe.”

Yet he knows that the goals for the players aren’t nearly as lofty.

“These kids are blind, and they’re around other kids who are blind,” he says. “They get to hang out with others who are exactly like them, and they get to do something they love.”



College welcomes 2017 group of Dean’s Achievement Scholars

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Some have known forever.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” says Halley Fogerty, a pre-Elementary Education major from Wheaton. “I like the consistency of school. I like going to classes, taking notes, doing homework. It’s not just learning; it’s a lot of fun.”

As someone who vividly remembers rushing home from school as a young child to make PowerPoint presentations for her family, Fogerty holds dear the elementary years.

“You learn a lot about yourself. You learn to be resilient and to push through things that are hard,” she says. “I think this is the critical point in life. If you have a bad educator at an earlier age, you’re less likely to apply yourself when you’re older.”

Karli Tillema, a fellow pre-Elementary Education major, shares those sentiments.

“I’ve always wanted to teach since I was in kindergarten myself. I’ve never thought of anything else,” says the Belvidere native.

“Elementary school is a really big thing in how kids grow up and learn in the older levels – middle school and high school. It’s the start of their education,” she adds. “To know that I’m helping kids learn about things they will need to know in the future makes me happy.”

Alexis Safstrom

Alexis Safstrom

For some, the dream to teach is new.

Huntley native Samantha Panek, a percussionist, originally planned on a career in music. Thinking about her own years in middle school, however, convinced her of another path as an English teacher.

“Middle school is when kids are going through puberty and hard times. In middle school, I was still figuring myself out. I was kind of a quiet loner kid, but when I hit eighth-grade, I made friends. I had teachers who were supportive of me, and that I would talk to every day,” says Panek, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning major.

Now, Panek says, “I want to be that role model for students. I want to be one of the people they come to when they need to talk. I want to make sure they come to me when they need help.”

Others cite a personal connection.

Lauren Brooks, a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, is a cousin to a young woman with special needs.

“I just want to give kids an opportunity to succeed and to take their learning seriously,” says Brooks, who is from Aurora.

“They have tons of opportunities and potential, and I want to open their eyes to that and give them those opportunities. I’ve seen how my cousin has been kind of limited because of that, and how people treat her because of that, and I want to change that.”

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.


Emily Wines
, also a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, discovered her calling thanks to an inclusive Physical Education program built on open minds and big hearts.

“When I was in high school, we had a combined P.E. class, and this one girl I was paired with came every day with a smile,” says Wines, from Ladd, Ill.

Her former classmate has Down syndrome and hearing issues, Wines says. “She inspired me,” says Wines, who plans to focus on severe disabilities as opposed to learning disabilities. “If she can do this every single day with a smile on her face, I want to do anything I can do to help.”

These five future teachers are among the 2017-18 class of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients in the NIU College of Education.

Chosen for stellar academic performance in high school, each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year with the possibility of renewal for the next year based on grade point average.

das-1

David Walker learns more about Adina Buetow (left).

Rounding out the group are, from the Department of Special and Early Education, Adina Buetow (Vision Impairments), Cameron Clark (Learning Behavior Specialist I), Lisbet Firman (pre-Early Childhood Studies) and Abby Howard (pre-Early Childhood Studies).

Other scholarship recipients, from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, are Alivia Hansen (Elementary Education-Reading), Tirza Lisle (Elementary Education), Hailey Pezdek (pre-Elementary Education), Alexis Safstrom (pre-Elementary Education) and Peytonn Weaver (pre-Elementary Education).

The scholars met Sept. 12 with Dean Laurie-Elish Piper, associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker and leadership from three academic departments and College of Education Student Services.

“You are the top new incoming freshmen,” Kristin Rinehart, coordinator of Recruitment for College of Education Student Services, told the group. “You’re at the top of the list.”

Margee Myles, director of College of Education Student Services, then raised the bar: “We truly are expecting great things from all of you.”

From Elish-Piper and the associate deans, the freshmen heard about the need to enhance their experience outside the classroom through the college’s Educate and Engage Program, the University Honors Program, undergraduate research and student organizations.

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Beyond the networking and leadership development opportunities, Elish-Piper told the students, embracing all the college has to offer will enable them to grow as individuals as they gain more experience, more qualifications and more confidence.

“We know that you are all academic superstars,” Elish-Piper said, “and you have made a fabulous choice in NIU.”

Brooks, like the others, calls herself honored, surprised and grateful to receive a scholarship.

“I feel a lot of doors opened for me. I feel I have a better connection with the College of Education now,” she says. “I really want to try my hardest to get good grades all of my semesters here.”



Visual Impairments grad student hopes to improve lives, system

Lizzy Koster

Lizzy Koster

When Lizzy Koster graduated from Hendrix College in Arkansas, she took a job as an assistant at a political consulting firm. It didn’t last long.

“Politics wasn’t what I imagined it would be,” says Koster, an NIU College of Education graduate student with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology.

Because she had always nurtured an interest in health care, she soon found herself working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her skillset quickly grew to include the processing of medical paperwork, knowledge she deemed valuable for future endeavors.

Yet another career – one woven into her DNA – beckoned.

“Education is a family business of ours,” says Koster, a native of Elmhurst, Ill. “My aunt went through the NIU Vision Program, and she went on to work in the Chicago Public Schools. She called me and said it would be a great fit for me. Kapperman actually called me, too.”

Kapperman is Gaylen Kapperman, who joined NIU’s program in visual impairments in 1974 and remains active in the Department of Special and Early Education as a Professor Emeritus. He and colleague Stacy Kelly are relentless recruiters for the graduate programs, which offer free tuition, fees and health insurance along with stipends to woo more professionals into a critically understaffed field.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Now Koster is on her way to a career as a teacher of the visually impaired and as a specialist in assistive technology as well as orientation and mobility. She also has joined Kapperman in conducting research and writing several manuscripts, one of which has been accepted for publication in a referred journal.

“Vision is a good fit for me,” says Koster, 27. “I love working with people and with different cultures, and when you work in special education, it’s kind of inevitable. You come in contact with kids from different backgrounds, and you have to come at them with an understanding approach.”

Gaining early experience through substitute-teaching at the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County has provided confirmation of her new direction.

“I feel like educators, in public schools specifically, are so pressed to get the right test scores,” she says.

“But with vision, although our students might participate in that statewide or national testing, their benchmarks are so different. Vision is not so much about grades but in giving them life skills and even social skills. Seeing them make a friend is such a big deal,” she adds. “Their goals might not translate to academic grades but to really improving their quality of life, and being able to watch them achieve their personal goals is so exciting.”

She also is eager to exercise her love of languages.

Her interest in learning Spanish began at age 3, when her grandfather gave her a book about Mexico. Her fluency blossomed as she studied Spanish from second-grade through high school.

koster-lizzy-3As an undergrad at Hendrix, she enrolled in a course on social justice and human rights in Argentina, traveled throughout the region and spent her junior year as a study abroad student in Brazil. Before embarking, of course, she taught herself Portuguese.

During the summer after her junior year of high school, she studied in Spain.

One summer later after her graduation, she volunteered in Paraguay, where she learned the indigenous language of Guarani.

True to form, she also learned Braille on her own before coming to NIU in August 2016.

Language, naturally, is the focus of research Koster has conducted and presented with Kapperman at the conference of the Illinois Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“Kapperman is interested in a research project using a screen-reading technology for those who are completely blind or who need that vocal feedback,” she says. “We’re also working on figuring out Google Translate and other means of using screen-readers for those who are learning a foreign language or for whom English is not a first language.”

Following her graduation in August 2018, Koster won’t close the book on college just yet.

koster-lizzy-2She plans to earn a doctoral degree that will prepare her for administrative roles in special education – that’s where her experience in processing medical paperwork will come in handy – or to serve as an advocate for teachers.

“My biggest interest is in benefiting the system, helping all of the working parts – students, teachers, aides and assistants, families – to operate a bit more smoothly,” she says.

But the advocacy role might tackle an even greater concern, she says: teacher burnout.

“If there’s a way to make people stay in the field, that’s ultimately helping the students, too. They need that longevity and consistency,” Koster says. “If I could help people to achieve that, then that would be great.”



Lone Star stars: Educate U.S. ‘teas’ up for May trip to Texas

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

NIU College of Education students selected for the May 2017 edition of Educate U.S. gathered last week in a Graham Hall classroom to learn more about their pending trip to the Houston Independent School District.

Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development, and Portia Downey, professional development coordinator, covered basics such as transportation times, liability forms, ground rules and more.

But the orientation session was mostly fun and festive.

The room was adorned with numerous Texas flags, many taped to the door and walls with others in the forms of paper plates and napkins at the buffet table, which dished up walking tacos, Downey’s homemade Texas Cowboy Cookies, Texas Sweet Tea and drinking glasses in the shape of cowboy boots.

Students also had their choice of Educate U.S. T-shirts and official College of Education red polo shirts.

David Walker, associate dean of the NIU College of Education, congratulated the group for pursuing the “phenomenal program” that sends outstanding pre-service teachers to Texas for donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences in a large, urban school district.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.

“You made it. You’re the best of the best. We’re really excited for you to be a part of this,” said Walker, who also promoted this summer’s Educate Global program in Taiwan. “When I was a student many years ago, I wish I would have had these opportunities.”

Educate U.S. participants work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons, and engaging in co-teaching strategies. They also participate with students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events, further enriching their experience.

Marcus Lewis, a junior elementary education major, applied for Educate U.S. to glimpse how school is taught outside the borders of Illinois.

“I’d like to experience a different area of the United States, and see how they take on education and pedagogy,” said Lewis, who also is participating in Educate Global this summer. “I value education as a tool for change, and I believe it’s one of the most important aspects of society.”

Lewis, who’s heard “nothing but great things” about Educate U.S., hopes to teach fourth-grade. “It’s a great transition time,” he said. “They’re moving into adolescence. They’re not babies anymore. They’re starting to rationalize.”

Sarah Younglove, a special education major, expects that her week in Houston will provide a view completely unlike her “predominantly white” hometown of Oregon, Ill.

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske

“I’m from a really small town with less than 4,000 people,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to go to a school district that’s got more than 215,000 students, and to experience different cultures.”

Younglove is equally excited for her future career. “I just feel very passionate about seeing students reach their full potential,” she said, “and I think the world needs as many passionate teachers as it can get.”

Lorena Flores, a transfer student in Middle Level Teaching and Learning, is eager to explore Houston’s bilingual classrooms.

“I’ve never seen that applied at the middle level,” she said. “I want to see how they do it.”

Flores, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who developed a love of teaching as a drill instructor, also looks forward to observing and living “the everyday life of a teacher” who must balance school and home.

Her goal as a science teacher is to emulate one of her former instructors. “In high school, I had a certain math teacher who ended up being my math teacher for three years in a row,” she said. “I hated math – but he made it fun and interesting, and he treated us as people, not just a name or a number.”

texas-tacosEarly Childhood Studies majors traveling in May are Nycol Durham, Malika Lee, Ashley Kivikoski, Wendy Castillo-Guzman, Katelynn Horton, Ashley Hodges, Caroline Stephens and Catherina Rousonelos.

Elementary Education majors are Nicole VanGarsse, Abby Spankroy, Erin Kostos, Sarah Raila, Jennifer Lucchsi and Marcus Lewis.

Middle Level Teaching and Learning majors are Emma Foelske, Samantha Oakley and Lorena Flores. Special Education majors are Bailey Fisch, Rachel Streight and Sarah Younglove.

texas-group



Shooting for the moon

open-doors-fiStudents in the NIU College of Education’s Open Doors project help second-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Bellwood to identify their visions and map the roads to realizing them.

Nakeya wants to be a ballet dancer. Jamari wants to be a train conductor. Isabel wants to design fashions for famous people. Deandre wants to be an astronaut. Phillip wants to be an animator. Kenyatti wants to produce video games.

“I am extremely proud of my students during our visits to Bellwood. I think they represent NIU’s College of Education very well. They give 110 percent to the students they support while visiting Lincoln,” says Natalie Young, an instructor in the Early Childhood Studies program of the Department of Special and Early Education.

“My goal is for my students to not only teach the children, but to learn from the students as well,” Young adds, “which is what all good teachers do.”

Read all about it – and watch the video – courtesy of the NIU Newsroom.



NIU holds fall commencement

capThree NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last weekend during the fall commencement ceremonies.

President Doug Baker told the audience at Sunday’s 2 p.m. ceremony about Luis Hernandez, a graduate from Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

During Saturday’s Graduate School ceremony, the president spoke about Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, who earned master’s degrees in Early Childhood Studies.

Here are President Baker’s comments.

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez sees the world differently than most – and in more ways than one.

Talk to him and you’ll hear about the infinite complexities of everything around us. Of questions for which there are currently no answers. Of the lack of enough lifetimes to understand, or even solve, just a fraction of the puzzles of the universe.

Or the endless possibilities to unlock some of these solutions through simply improving mathematical literacy.

“It’s mindboggling,” Luis says, “how complicated reality is.”

He graduates today with a degree in kinesiology, a fascinating field that drew him in through its beautiful combination of sciences and disciplines.

To many, it’s all about exercise. To Luis, though, it’s math. It’s physics. It’s biology, chemistry and even philosophy.

Raised in Chicago Heights since fourth-grade, Luis has spent his time at NIU nurturing a deep passion for research.

Working with dollars provided by our undergraduate research programs, he’s completed two projects, he has another in progress – and he has appreciated the autonomy provided by faculty mentors.

One study explored lower-body strength. The other examined how video game-based exercise can improve balance and reduce falls in the elderly. Now he’s looking into possible benefits of working out more often than generally recommended.

Next month, Luis begins courses in the College of Education’s graduate program in Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership on his path toward a doctorate and work in research or higher education.

That decision keeps him among faculty who know and respect him – and on familiar ground, something important for Luis, who is visually impaired.

Born with no sight in his right eye and an underdeveloped optic nerve in his left eye, he is legally blind though he can still “see” to a limited degree. He’s never considered it a deficit, though, because he’s never experienced “normal” visual acuity.

Luis relies on other senses, including hearing and touch, to maneuver his surroundings and expand his mind. You also might spot him using the camera on his phone to zoom in on the chalkboard.

Congratulations, Luis! I’m excited to glimpse our vivid tomorrows through your eyes.

Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima

Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima

Kaneez Fatima
and Sadia Qamar

For Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, the walk across this stage today is paved with self-awareness, passion, commitment and courage.

As trainers of teachers in their native Pakistan – and as talented and devoted teachers themselves – Kaneez and Sadia realized that to make a greater impact on elementary education in their homeland, they needed to enhance their knowledge.

They dedicated themselves to securing that opportunity, and beat out thousands of applicants to secure two of only 27 scholarship offered by the United States Agency for International Development.

They applied themselves relentlessly. They completed six months of English training in half that time; they attended every day of their College of Education classes; they not only joined student organizations, they became leaders.

And they bravely rose above their country’s male-dominated culture to make independent decisions – decisions to not only travel but to live abroad … by themselves – for the purpose of advancing their own higher education. Such choices are not made lightly.

Now, as they earn master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education, they soon will return to Pakistan to reunite with loved ones and to resume their work.

Beyond the lessons they impart about American ways of learning – of teachers who empower students to facilitate their own discovery, who function as partners in that journey – they will quietly demonstrate the magnitude of what they have undertaken.

Kaneez knows from encounters with teachers in Pakistan that they want to deliver innovative and impactful instruction – but that they need professional support to do so. She will provide that, taking home with her influence and ideas not only from classmates in the United States but from many other countries, including China and Nigeria.

Sadia, who has found within herself a confidence, is eager to evangelize for the profound value of early childhood education – of the foundation it sets for future academic achievement. It’s not generally acknowledged in Pakistan, but she will change that.

Both women want teachers to know that a lack of resources cannot overpower passion for the job and solid educational strategies. That students with special needs are capable and deserving. That parents should encourage and accompany their children in learning, literally going hand-in-hand on educational adventures in and out of the classroom.

Their message to teachers back home – and to the children they teach – is forceful: Believe you can do something.

And, in their lives, they already have – not only for themselves but for generations to come. Congratulations!

James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony. Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s recognition.

James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) the NIU College of Education’s Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and NIU President Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony.
Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s CEDU-rooted recognition.



Stacy Kelly presents, collaborates in Scotland

Stacy Kelly visits Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Stacy Kelly visits Scotland’s
Royal National Institute for the Blind.

For Stacy Kelly, a trip to Scotland to share best practices on the training of pre-service professionals in the field of visual impairments proved an eye-opening experience.

During her well-received conference presentations at Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind and her opportunities to observe her United Kingdom colleagues at work, Kelly glimpsed something she can’t see back home.

“In the United States, we have a totally different system to protect our privacy – it’s very much individual, little blocks of information, but you can’t break into the blocks. We have HIPPA, FERPA and all these layers of privacy protection,” says Kelly, an associate professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.

“So much research in our profession is single-subject research design because of the infrastructure of privacy protection,” she adds. “National data sets are hard to come by, and that’s a real struggle for us in the United States.”

Researchers aren’t alone in the dearth of information: Even parents of people with visual impairments lose access to the health records of their children when those children reach adulthood.

Laws is Scotland, however, are far more open – and the colleagues Kelly met there “were just fascinated by the fact that we’re so obsessed with privacy, because they’re not.”

The country’s national registry of blind and partially sighted persons, while not compulsory, provides a wealth of statistics for researchers and practitioners.

“We’re so jealous,” Kelly says. “With the registry, people are identifiable. You can do research on intervention. You can look and see the impact. They have a much more direct route to information than we do here. We told them, ‘That’s a huge strength. Don’t forget that.’ And they said, ‘Wow, we can’t imagine it not being that way.’ ”

Kelly visited Scotland during the last week of October.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

Her conference presentation focused on how preservice professionals in the visual impairment field are trained in the United States as well as U.S. innovations in delivering services to people with visual impairments.

Observation of the practitioners of the Royal Blind School for Visually Impaired and Blind Children provided another contrast.

“U.S. teachers cover braille, adapted living skills, social skills, assistive technology – teachers of the visually impaired provide that support and knowledge to their students,” Kelly says.

“Their model is that the teacher just does the braille instruction. The rest falls under a ‘habilitation’ specialist, who does a lot of what our teachers of the visually impaired do in the schools,” she adds. “We have very different caseloads.”

Moving forward, Kelly expects to stay in touch and assist her new colleagues in assessing the outcomes of their work.

“This was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “You can read about it; you can have good Skype conversations with people overseas; you can have an exchange of ideas; but the opportunity to actually be there and to learn from them face-to-face was just awesome.”



Silicon Valley social entrepreneur to receive honorary NIU doctorate

Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to James Fruchterman, who has devoted his career to bringing “Silicon Valley’s technology innovations to all of humanity, not just the richest 5 percent.”

The CEO and founder of Benetech will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, in the NIU Convocation Center.

A former rocket engineer who also founded two successful for-profit, high-tech companies, Fruchterman grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill.

He is also a MacArthur Fellow, recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and winner of the 2013 Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind, the highest honor in the United States for service to the field of blindness.

“We are privileged to recognize Jim Fruchterman,” NIU President Doug Baker says. “He applies his skills in engineering and physics to discover, develop and deliver technology that helps people around the world to lead better and more-productive lives, and he has accomplished this in a selfless way.”

“Mr. Fruchterman is truly a model of innovation, social justice and interdisciplinary problem-solving,” adds Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, which houses the Visual Disabilities Program. “What a wonderful model for our NIU students, faculty, staff and alumni to see that such a gifted individual has used his immense talents for the greater good.”

Called Arkenstone from 1989 to 2000, Benetech “combines the power of the human mind with a deep passion for social improvement, creating new technology applications that address unmet human needs.”

  • Global Literacy. People with visual and other disabilities have access to technology-based literacy solutions. Benetech also promotes systemic change to make its tools unnecessary in the future.
  • Human Rights. Benetech software, services and training keep human rights defenders safe. Its software also has become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice and begin the process of reconciliation.
  • Environment. Ecologists and conservationists are given tools to plan and manage their global efforts to protect natural resources.

braille-3Gaylen Kapperman, who led NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program for decades and nominated Fruchterman, is a grateful beneficiary of Fruchterman’s legacy.

“Jim established Benetech, a groundbreaking, nonprofit company, to provide the software which people who are blind could use to convert printed material into a form that they could read without the help of sighted individuals,” says Kapperman, now a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Special and Early Education.

Kapperman subscribes to Benetech’s Bookshare, which serves 425,000 members with an online library of more than 490,000 accessible books and periodicals – available free of charge for all U.S. students with qualified disabilities including blindness, vision impairment or another disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia.

“As a blind person,” Kapperman says, “I use that source of information on nearly a daily basis.”

Stacy Kelly, associate professor in NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program, calls Fruchterman’s honor “richly deserved.”

“Jim is a person whose efforts have resulted in the provision of social good on a large scale,” Kelly says. “This is an opportunity for NIU embrace the remarkable work of one of ‘our own’ Illinois natives.”



Presidential Teaching Professor Toni Van Laarhoven imparts lessons from her life, heart

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven became a teacher before she became a student.

Van Laarhoven and her twin sister, Traci, often accompanied their mother and their sister, Steffanie, to the parent-run school their sibling attended. Toni and Traci – only preschoolers then – often were asked to teach their sister’s classmates and to lead small-group activities.

Years later, Van Laarhoven would realize the roles were switched.

“My older sister, who has severe intellectual disabilities, is nonverbal and engages in some challenging behavior, is one of the coolest people you could ever meet – and is also one of my most influential teachers,” says NIU’s Presidential Teaching Professor for 2016.

“She has taught me that teaching-and-learning is a reciprocal process,” she adds, “and that it is critical to listen and learn from all people, regardless of their mode of communication.”

Her mother also inspired her work but in a different way.

Elaine Leslie Baker joined other parents in lobbying for educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities; their efforts resulted in the 1975 legislation known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act that guarantees a free, appropriate education for that population.

“From her, I learned the power of advocacy,” says Van Laarhoven, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education, “and to treat all people with respect and dignity.”

van-laarhoven-toni-3During her two decades at NIU – the two-time alumna joined the College of Education as in instructor in 1995 and became an assistant professor in 2001 – she has perpetuated the mission of her big sister and their late mother.

Project MY VOICE, which Van Laarhoven and Traci created and successfully directed from 2007 to 2011, continues to empower high school students with intellectual disabilities to participate in their own Individualized Education Programs via technology.

Last year, Van Laarhoven harnessed the potential of Google Glass to teach vocational skills to teens with special needs.

Weaving those projects and their capacity for experiential learning into her curriculum assures her that each next generation of special education teachers will treat their students in exactly the way they deserve.

“I think students recognize my passion for the field and my commitment to making sure they become the best special educators they can be,” she says. “They also recognize that as a family member of an individual with a disability, I am truly invested in their success and want nothing more for them than to change lives and become strong advocates for all of the students they encounter.”

Jennifer Horst, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Westmore Elementary School in suburban Lombard, confirms her former professor’s aspiration to “shape us as the powerful and efficacious educators she envisioned.”

“As someone who cares so deeply about the population she was training us to teach, the academic rigor that she challenged us with was understood as a sort of ‘future advocacy’ for individuals with disabilities,” Horst says. “There was no way she would let anything go partially mastered in her classes.”