Professor receives international honor for impact in special education

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—University of Florida education professor Mary Brownell, a leading scholar and policy expert in special education and teacher preparation, has received a top honor from the world’s largest advocacy […]

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—University of Florida education professor Mary Brownell, a leading scholar and policy expert in special education and teacher preparation, has received a top honor from the world’s largest advocacy organization for students with special needs.

Mary BrownellThe Teacher Education Division (TED) of the Council for Exceptional Children presented Brownell with the 2013 TED/Pearson Excellence in Teacher Education Award at the council’s annual meeting in San Antonio, April 3-6. The council is the largest international professional organization in special education with more than 30,000 members.

The annual award goes to an individual who has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to teacher preparation in special education, the cultivation of future leaders in the field, or leadership in scholarly work and legislative advocacy.

Brownell, who joined UF’s College of Education in 1991, has made a significant impact in all three areas. She has received numerous university and college honors for teaching and student mentoring, has held an endowed professorship, has co-directed three national centers addressing special education personnel policies and practices, and has advised national law and policy makers on improving the standards and practices of teacher preparation in special education.

She is the college’s top-funded researcher, with phenomenal success in attracting major federal grants on some of the most vital issues in education. She has generated more than $36 million in federal funding from the Education Department’s Office of Special Education Programs and its Institute of Education Sciences. Last fall, OSEP awarded $25 million—its largest grant ever—to Brownell and her UF co-researchers Paul Sindelar and Erica McCray. The funding supports their effort to create a national CEEDAR Center (Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform) at UF, charged with restructuring and improving teacher preparation in special education in 20 states.

Brownell is just as prolific in disseminating her researching findings, to the benefit of her peers, as evidenced by her authorship of three books and dozens of book chapters and articles in refereed journals, and countless conference presentations and invited addresses. She recently collaborated on editing a handbook of research on special education teacher preparation.

“Mary is the most important contemporary scholar of special education and teacher education,” Sindelar said. “She is a brilliant scholar, an accomplished researcher, a demanding teacher and a gifted and committed mentor. The full measure of her impact on classroom and special education teachers, students with disabilities and other struggling learners will not be known for years to come.”

After more than two decades at UF, Brownell’s scholarly productivity and international reputation have helped the University of Florida join the top-tier of American special-education teacher preparation programs. Special education perennially leads all College of Education program areas in research funding and currently rates sixth nationally in its specialty in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s Best Graduate Schools.

Brownell’s sterling research record may be her most measurable accounting, but her students, past and present, might argue that her teaching and mentorship deserve equal billing. At UF, Brownell has directed multiple research and training projects that provided funding for more than 40 doctoral students not only in special education, but also in curriculum and instruction, school psychology and educational psychology. In 2010, she received a university-wide, doctoral-student mentoring award.

“Developing a serious research agenda focused on teacher quality issues and engaging other scholars in that agenda is of great importance to me,” Brownell said after the CEC award ceremony. “I hope others see me not only as an individual researcher but as a scholar who encourages and helps others to become engaged in this work.“

It’s obvious how her students see her: In award nomination letters, Brownell’s first doctoral student, now a teacher educator, refers to Brownell’s “ability to inspire with deep-rooted passion for her career.” Another recent graduate credits Brownell’s support for her success in winning two nationally recognized dissertation awards and helping her land a highly competitive, tenure-track teaching position.

Sean Smith, associate professor in special education at the University of Kansas, writes in his letter: “As a scholar, I recognize (Dr. Brownell’s) critical work, and as a parent of a school-aged child with a disability I rely on her work when I engage educators working with my son.”

Brownell is the fourth UF special education faculty member to receive the Excellence in Teacher Education Award. Previous recipients were current faculty James McLeskey in 2010 and Paul Sindelar in 2001, and former faculty member Vivian Correa in 2006. Last’s year’s recipient, Fred Spooner of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, also has UF ties: he worked and studied at the College of Education for three years in the late 1970s as a doctoral research fellow and research assistant.

   SOURCE: Mary Brownell, professor, special education, UF College of Education,, 352-273-4261
   WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education;; 352-273-4137