UF scholar doubles up on national honors for advancing learning disabilities field

Prof. Mary Brownell is feted twice for leading reform efforts in Special Education teacher preparation.

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University of Florida special education professor Mary Brownell has spent nearly three decades working tirelessly to prepare her teachers-in-training at the College of Education to address the needs of every student in their classrooms once they graduate.
As if that weren’t enough, Brownell also has been pursuing an even higher goal—galvanizing efforts across states and the nation to ensure that every student in America’s public schools, especially those with disabilities, receives the benefit of learning from teachers who possess the training, knowledge, skills and insights to provide exemplary teaching to ALL students.
It may sound like “Mission: Impossible,” but tell her that at your own risk. Brownell knows she can’t do it alone. Her MO is to organize and galvanize, which is exactly what she has done as director of a 20-state, collaborative program based at UF known as the CEEDAR Center—CEEDAR being short for Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform. Her goal—THEIR goal—is to help the states increase academic success for students with disabilities by vastly improving the education and practices of their teachers and school leaders.
The CEEDAR effort was launched in 2013 with a record $25 million grant over five years from the U.S. Department of Education. Success spawned a follow-up federal grant of $21 million in December to continue and expand the ambitious program to additional states over the next four years.
Brownell’s guidance of CEEDAR’s growth and impact is only her latest feat, which is why two national groups are recognizing her complete body of work that continues to transform the knowledge, practice and policies in the special education field.
She is being honored this week in Tampa in two separate ceremonies at the annual convention of the international Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the world’s largest organization of special education professionals and educators:

  • On Thursday (Feb. 8), the CEC’s Division for Learning Disabilities presented Brownell with its Jeannette Fleischner Career Leadership Award for “advancing the field of learning disabilities through direct service, policy development, community service, research or organizational leadership through their careers;”
  • Today, (Friday, Feb. 9), the University of Kansas Department of Special Education is honoring Brownell, a KU alumna, with its Special Education Field Leadership Award, acknowledging her “body of work that has advanced knowledge, practice and policy in special education.”

In his letter notifying Brownell of her selection, Michael Wehmeyer, distinguished professor & chair of special education at KU, writes that Brownell has “transformed our profession and the lives of the millions of students and families that we serve.”
He further writes that Brownell’s “tireless efforts” and leadership through the CEEDAR Center “has been instrumental in bringing the voice of students with disabilities and their needed supports into the national discussion on educator readiness to teach.”
Brownell joined the UF College of Education faculty in 1990 and has a lengthy list of accomplishments, including publishing more than 100 scholarly works and securing $65 million in federal grants to fund research aimed at improving teaching quality for students with disabilities.
She previously has been recognized nationally for her leadership, research and legislative advocacy for special education teacher preparation by the CEC Teacher Education Division, the group’s Division for Research, and a lifetime achievement award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).
Brownell also has received college and universitywide honors at UF for teaching undergraduate students and for mentoring doctoral students. She has directed numerous research and training projects that have generated funding for more than 50 Ph.D. students in multiple education specialties.
“What I find equally impressive (as Brownell’s national leadership) is her deep engagement with the cultivation of the next generation of special education teacher educators and researchers,” says special education professor Jean Crockett, a former school director and a faculty colleague of Brownell’s since 2005 at UF’s College of Education. “She is a beacon attracting young scholars who want to join her training and research projects, and she makes it well worth their effort.”
Brownell is not one to rest on her laurels.
“It is always humbling to be honored by your peers, but we still have so much to do in our field to improve teaching for students with disabilities,” Brownell said. “I look forward to working with colleagues around the country to ensure that every student with a disability has access to well-prepared teachers who can provide ambitious instruction that allows them to achieve satisfying and productive lives.”

    SOURCE: Mary Brownell, Ph.D., mbrownell@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4261
    WRITER: Larry Lansford, news & communications, UF College of Education; llansford@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4137

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Mary Brownell, PhD