Dive into the real-world impact of the University of Florida’s College of Education through the experiences of our students and the highlights of our Special Education program. Below, you’ll find powerful testimonials from our alumni and faculty, sharing how their journey with us has shaped their professional paths and empowered them to make meaningful differences in the lives of students with disabilities.

Additionally, we spotlight the unique features and achievements of our program, illustrating why it stands out as a leader in special education training. Join us to discover how our commitment to excellence, innovation, and inclusion is transforming education and fostering success for educators and students alike.

Student Testimonials

The special education doctoral program at UF prepared me extremely well for my role as a researcher. The coursework and research apprenticeship experiences were exceptional. I also received excellent mentoring from my advisor, from my supervisory committee, and from other faculty in the program. I forged lifelong bonds that will surely serve me well throughout my career.

Tia Barnes, Ph.D.

My experiences in the Special Education doctoral program at the University of Florida helped to prepare me for a productive career as a faculty member in another top ranked program at the University of Virginia. I credit my success to the excellent faculty and the individual mentoring I received at UF.

Paige Cullen Pullen, Ph.D.

The UF Special Education Department is the reason I have been able to pursue my career goals. I am most appreciative of the nationally and internationally renowned faculty and staff who care deeply about the success of all graduate students in the program. I loved the balance of foundational courses in special education and research methods with individualized mentoring in my specific areas of interest. I also had multiple opportunities to engage in teaching, research, and service, all of which prepared me for the expectations of a faculty member in higher education!

Melinda M. Leko, Ph.D.

Years ago, I graduated from UF's Dual Certification ProTeach program with a masters in special education. Feeling well-prepared, I became a kindergarten teacher in an inclusive school for over four years, supporting students with diverse disabilities. Then, I returned to UF for my PhD in special education, aiming to teach and research effective practices for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. UF's top-ranked doctoral program and renowned scholars offered invaluable learning opportunities. I highly recommend UF's programs to any current or aspiring special educator looking to make a significant impact on students' lives.

Kristen Merrill, Ph.D.

As a graduate of the University of Florida’s Dual Degree program, I am better equipped with the tools and skill set to meet the varied needs of my students. My experiences in ProTeach have helped me to foster an inclusive classroom community, positive behavior support systems, and a culturally responsive classroom. The opportunities and courses that UF’s Dual Degree Program offers, has prepared me to collaborate with professionals, implement individualized educational plans, maintain partnerships with families, actively engage in Professional Development opportunities, and use data to drive my instruction. I am able to provide quality instruction in a technologically diverse school setting to 21st Century learners. Seeking a dual degree in UF’s ProTeach program has been the most invaluable experience.

Shayla C. Dekle, M.Ed.

Being part of the Unified Education Program was one of the most challenging and exciting seasons of my life and educational career. The program as a whole inspired me as a learner and helped to define me as a teacher. The fifth year of the program in particular, was my absolute favorite! I experienced a full semester of hands-on teaching in a Pre-K Disabilities placement. I was able to glean from professionals in a way that helped inspire and diversify my teaching from both pedagogical and philosophical perspectives. I am so grateful for the community of educators who poured out wisdom daily to help me succeed. Even now I still have many relationships with peers, professors, and field teachers I’ve worked with over the years of the program- all dedicated to success of students through the success of teachers.

Stephanie Dhue, M.Ed.

As a student in the Ed.S. program, the knowledge I gained has helped me to grow professionally. The expertise of the faculty enabled me to delve deeper into the field of special education and learn new information and strategies. This contributed to the development of my role as a teacher and further improved my ability to meet the needs of my students.

Jennifer Erickson, Ed.S.

Faculty Testimonials

Special education has been a part of my entire adult life. From my undergraduate college program to teaching elementary school to my current position in the College of Education, I have been working with children who have disabilities or preparing teachers to work with them. I enjoy what I do because I get to be involved in the field I love. I get to share special ed with others and see them grow to become dedicated teachers who make a difference in the lives of the children we teach. I also enjoy teaching EEX2000 Impact of Disabilities: Home, Community, and Workplace. It gives me the chance to help students outside of the field of education understand disability and, hopefully, help them start incorporating aspects of that understanding into their own experiences. Teaching EEX2000 – and other courses in the Disabilities in Society undergraduate minor – it’s exciting to see students not just learn about disability, but connect what they learn to their own lives, families, and future professions.

Penny Cox, Ph.D.

Clinical Professor

I’ve committed my professional career to improving the lives of children and youth with or at-risk for emotional and/or behavioral disorders (EBD). These children continue to be among the most challenging populations to serve and research continues to confirm the dismal short- and long-term outcomes they experience. Yet, many of us know at least one child that has improved, one child that has responded to intervention, one child that succeeded in school and beyond. For me, that one child represents my enduring commitment to serving children with EBD. First, I am that child. Growing up, I experienced many of the predictors of EBD, including high poverty, limited adult supervision, and a desire to escape. What drives my research is the need to know why I did not end up like so many others, why I responded. Second, I am an educator of children with some of the most profound behavioral challenges, yet I’ve never lost hope because of something a mentor once told me: “if you can help one child, just one, escape poverty, escape crime, achieve a better life, then your entire career was worth it”. What do I enjoy about what I do? I enjoy the opportunity I’ve been given to help many children to be successful. However, as long as I help just one, then my career and everything I’ve done has been worth it.

Nicholas Gage, Ph.D.

Clinical Professor

I feel truly privileged to be part of such a supportive group of teacher educators in the special education department. I am a former ProTeach student who dreamed of making a difference for struggling learners. After years of experiencing the thrills and challenges of teaching in our elementary classrooms, I now have the honor of teaching future special education teacher-candidates to help them become better prepared to work with their struggling readers. One of my greatest joys as clinical faculty is working with students enrolled in various programs in the College of Education who are learning the UFLI intervention model (‘UFLI’ stands for University of Florida Literacy). In this role, I observe our preservice teachers grow exponentially, not only in their knowledge of evidenced-based methods for teaching students with learning difficulties, but also in their love for teaching.

Vivian Gonsalves, Ph.D.

Clinical Assistant Professor

My career in higher education, with its current focus on teaching and mentoring students in research, is greatly influenced by my passion to help students find their own “fingerprint” for ways in which they can contribute to advancing our knowledge in identifying and instructing children with learning disabilities.

Linda Lombardino, Ph.D.

Professor of Speech-Language Pathology

I enjoy being a special education faculty member because it is an opportunity to be both autonomous and collaborative in pursuing equitable outcomes for students of color, who have disabilities, and/or live in poverty. My work is guided by an ethic of care and excellence. I have been involved with various research and technical assistance projects and taught courses with a singular focus – to change the thinking and practice of pre- and in-educators. I feel fortunate to collaborate with colleagues down the hall and across the country who are committed to improving the lives of children and families.

Erica McCray, Ph.D.

Associate Dean Personnel Affairs, Inclusive Excellence, and External Engagement