Tag: vision program

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.

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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.”



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.”