“I think my profession began before I realized it because I was being asked to help my fellow students learn before I had any formal preparation to be a teacher,” she said.
Compelled to serve youth and adolescents with disabilities, Brownell became a special education teacher working for several years both in the classroom as well as a juvenile detention center.
“I was drawn to the students and wanted them to be able to succeed more than they currently were, and I was concerned about how others saw them—that they didn’t see their potential, always,” she said.
Intrinsic to Brownell is a desire to cultivate the potential within every student. As she transitioned her career into higher education at UF, this commitment has remained at the heart of her teaching and has served as the guiding compass of her scholarship.
As a special educator herself who left the classroom, she has dedicated her research to understanding how to better prepare and better support educators and reduce teacher attrition. She has worked tirelessly to strengthen the preparation of special and general education teachers to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge, training and tools to provide exemplary instruction to all students, and particularly students with disabilities.
“I left, and so I reflected on that myself and what it would take to keep good people in these positions that were devoted to students with disabilities,” she said. I could see that when teachers were devoted like that, students, who other people didn’t have high hopes for, really progressed and you know surprised everyone.”