Welcome from the Chair

Greg Conderman
Greg Conderman

I am pleased to share with you our second online newsletter from members of the Department of Special and Early Education (SEED) at Northern Illinois University.

Once again, we are excited to connect with you and share good news from our department!

The SEED department continues to grow with new programs and new faculty while maintaining excellence in instruction, course delivery, service and research. Our faculty, staff and advisors continue to work hard to put students first.

In this Fall 2018 issue of the SEED newsletter, you will learn about new initiatives and programs in SEED that are positively influencing our region.

You also will find six interesting articles about our programs and the amazing work from our faculty and students. These articles focus on ways we are engaging students in our curriculum in innovative ways, exciting faculty research and scholarly activities, and achievements of our graduate students.

A few recent highlights in SEED include:

  • Last spring, SEED hosted a successful community-learning event that focused on transition services for adults with disabilities. Associate Professor Dr. Sarah Johnston-Rodriguez facilitated the event, and Professor Dr. Toni Van Laarhoven was one of the speakers. About 170 parents, service providers and NIU students attended.
  • We are offering our Director of Special Education cohort this year at the NIU-Hoffman Estates campus. This year we have seen an increase in the number of candidates enrolling in this program.
  • We started a new Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) cohort this fall. Associate Professor Dr. Jesse (Woody) Johnson is the coordinator of this program. Due to his expertise in recruiting, we again attracted many candidates from a wide geographical area.
  • This fall we began a new contract cohort with the Elgin School District. Thirty-one teachers are enrolled in this hybrid Learning Behavior Specialist-1 (LBS-1) endorsement program. Assistant Professor Dr. Natalie Andzik is teaching the first class in the program.
  • Our new undergraduate minor in Special Education began this fall. Undergraduate advisor Barb Amberg is working with students interested in this minor. Barb also continues to work diligently with Penguin Players, which is a theater production involving adults with disabilities who are paired with mentors without disabilities.
  • Undergraduate advisor Kate Donohue is now advising middle-level candidates along with early childhood candidates. Kate continues to take NIU classes toward her second master’s degree.
  • Candidates in our Early Childhood program continue to be involved in the Open Doors program, which is facilitated by Assistant Professor Natalie Young. This program enables early childhood candidates to complete an early experience with children in a very diverse school.
  • All of our programs continue to earn state and national accreditation. Associate Professor William Penrod completed the Orientation and Mobility reports, and Associate Professor Stacy Kelly wrote the Teachers of the Visually Impaired assessment reports.
  • SEED candidates continue to be involved in Educate U. S. (which is a week-long experience teaching in Texas) and Educate Global (which provides opportunities for teacher candidates to teach in China). This past summer, Assistant Professor Stephanie DeSpain joined NIU candidates in China and supported their learning experience.
  • Our online course, Disability in Film, continues to be a popular course for Special Education majors and non-Special Education majors. Associate Professor Jeff Chan developed and teaches this course.
  • Recent SEED recipients of College of Education Excellence Awards included Associate Professor Jesse Johnson for outstanding service and Associate Professor Stacy Kelly for outstanding instruction.
  • During the summer, 2018, SEED offered six undergraduate courses and 24 graduate-level courses. Additionally, we have significantly expanded the number of honors sections we now offer.
  • Last spring, we held a student awards ceremony for outstanding SEED candidates. Associate Dean David Walker joined us. More than 35 candidates were recognized for their outstanding work, and more than 100 attended the event. Associate Professor Laura Hedin (with advisors Barb Amberg, Kate Donohue and Clinical Coordinator Valerie Sawyer) led the committee that coordinated the successful event. SEED Office manager Laura Harris is already making initial plans for this year’s spring program.
  • Associate Professor Erika Blood-Pinter just completed her sabbatical in Alaska, where she studied adult service providers for individuals with disabilities. Jesse Johnson is on sabbatical this fall. He is studying the use of biometrics (wearable technology) for students with behavior challenges.
  • Early Childhood Assistant Professors Robin Miller Young and Stephanie DeSpain were honored as exemplary faculty members by members of NIU’s Mortar Board Society last spring.
  • Our new Exploring the Special Ed Major class is a success. Candidates like connections they make to the university, college, department and program. The Early Childhood program will soon have a similar course for its undergraduate majors.
  • Our graduate enrollment continues to climb. Our new 30-hour master’s degree is especially popular with students. Graduate advisor Les Hecht and office support specialist Gail Meyers work closely with graduate students in all of our programs.

SEED faculty have developed several goals for the next few years. One of our pressing initiatives is to provide more faculty-student collaboration. Many of our students are interested in writing and presenting with faculty. Last year, SEED faculty competed more than 40 projects with students.

If you would like to support this goal, please consider designating a gift to Special and Early Education by contacting Adam Neal, Director of Advancement, College of Education, at aneal@niu.edu or by donating online at http://niufoundation.org/invest-niu/ways-give/. Funds will be used to support students to work with faculty on research projects and to support their travel to conferences.

On behalf of the faculty and staff in SEED, we hope that this finds you well and that you will reach out to us. We would enjoy hearing from you!

Thank you.


Greg Conderman, Ed. D
Professor and Chair
Special and Early Education

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