Message from the Chair

Laura Hedin
Laura Hedin

Spring greetings from the Department of Special and Early Education!

Many of you already know me, as I have been on the faculty in SEED since 2007. I assumed the role of chair in July 2020, and it has been both a challenging and rewarding year. But one constant in this time of change has been the support of our alums.

Your support for SEED’s students and programs enriches the experiences of not just our teacher-candidates, but also those of the children in their field experiences. So, thank you!

Here are just a few news items to share with you.

In fall, we welcomed three new tenure-track faculty: Rachel Donegan, Lydia Gerzel-Short and Molly Pasley. These new team members have shown incredible resilience and energy, teaching, conducting research and participating in service in this virtual world. Please read more about them.

As you might know, NIU has been teaching and learning in a virtual environment for approximately a year now. Through it all, SEED faculty and instructors have been working hard to maintain connections with and engagement of our students to foster their success. Almost 100% of faculty have participated in training related to online teaching and learning, essential to maintaining the quality of our programs.

We were pleased that SEED’s enrollment increased during 2020-2021, and we have many new initiatives to meet the needs of future students.

We finalized a program with Elgin Community College uniquely designed to create a smooth path to licensure for both special and early education candidates. SEED is also working to obtain grant-funding for innovative programs in both special and early childhood education. We hope to have good news about these in the near future.

Dr. Woody Johnson and a team of faculty from NIU’s Department of Psychology were awarded a $1.25 million grant to study bullying and the impact of behavior analysis in the public schools. The grant will support 24 candidates from Rockford School District 205 and DeKalb Community Unit School District 428 completing master’s degrees that include training in behavior analysis.

Open Doors campus visit Fall 2019
Open Doors campus visit Fall 2019

The Open Doors project received generous support from the Kambich family through the “Education for Peace” fund. This year, teacher-candidates and participating teachers in Bellwood School District 88 will receive a “Peace Library” with read-aloud books that address culturally relevant learning standards, social justice and social-emotional learning.

Student organizations such as Illinois Association of Education of Young Children, Student Council for Exceptional Children and Best Buddies continue to meet. Upcoming virtual events for spring include a principal panel to provide interviewing tips, and a session on test taking preparation for licensure tests.

Penguin Players produced a virtual performance in December 2020 that included SEED students in mentor roles, community members with developmental disabilities and their family members. A huge thank you to the King family for their continued support for this inclusive theater experience, and to Barb Amberg, our academic advisor.

Thank you for your encouragement and support as we approach the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. We look forward to welcoming you back to campus for events including in-person commencement this summer! If you have any questions or if I can be of assistance, please contact me at or at 815-753-8421.

Laura Hedin, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Special and Early Education

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