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Helen MaloneYour story
I entered the doctoral program in 2002 after working as an in-home behavior specialist and teacher at the California School for the Blind, where I taught students with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. I constantly struggled with the idea that I wasn’t able to impact the lives of as many people with disabilities as I had hoped, and I felt somewhat isolated in my practice. I believed that entering a doctoral program would teach me how to reach a broader audience, and as a result positively impact more students with significant disabilities.

Why UT?
The special education program at UT Texas offered such a vast array of opportunities to me. I was given opportunities to work with students with various disabilities and hone in on the population of students I most enjoy working with; those with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to other world class faculty in the program, I was able to work closely with Mark O’Reilly and Jeff Sigafoos, developing my skills as a teacher and researcher. Through them, I learned to critically analyze the problems surrounding students with disabilities and develop solid research studies that would have positive impacts for the students while also adding to the field.

Life After UT
When I graduated I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and joined the faculty in special education at The Ohio State University, where I continue to conduct research with students with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities and teach courses in applied behavior analysis and those related to severe and profound disabilities. I am in regular contact with my advisers and colleagues from the program, and use them as resources. The relationships I built at UT — both personally and professionally — have been some of the best.

Advice for Students
I would advise students to be open to new ideas and perspectives on the problems faced in special education. Rather than relying on any one perspective alone, I would encourage students to be open to the possibility of viewing the problems they are researching from different perspectives in order to find other, potentially better, solutions. A willingness to accept other views will also increase the potential of collaborating with others who see the same problems differently.

Sharon Vaughn, Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk

Dr. Sharon Vaughn, an internationally acclaimed reading expert and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER), has been honored with the University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards program’s very prestigious Career Research Excellence Award.

Vaughn, who is the H.E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair in Human Development, is the first female ever to win the award and only the second winner from The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

The Research Excellence Award, which is accompanied by $10,000, is given to a UT Austin faculty member or staff researcher who has maintained a superior research program across many years.

In addition to serving as the Executive Director of MCPER, Vaughn also is a professor in the Department of Special Education and director of the Center’s Reading Institute and the Dropout Prevention Institute. She serves on the board of directors for the college’s nationally renowned Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts as well.

“Nationally, among literacy and education scholars, Dr. Vaughn’s name is virtually synonymous with reading research and instruction,” said Manuel J. Justiz, dean of the College of Education. “She’s a pioneer in the development and implementation of intervention practices designed to prevent literacy difficulties and improve reading and writing abilities in some of our most in-need student populations – her impact in this area is unprecedented. The College of Education is incredibly fortunate to have someone so highly accomplished.”

At MCPER, over which Dr. Vaughn presides, faculty from a variety of disciplines in addition to education conduct research on autism spectrum disorders, literacy, dropout prevention, English language learners, math learning disabilities, and response to intervention.
Recently Vaughn and colleagues were selected to partner with the George W. Bush Institute and, with a $2.6 million grant, launch the Middle School Matters Institute. The Institute will focus on translating research into practice in middle schools and will address struggling learners’ needs in several core subjects.

In 2010, under Vaughn’s leadership the Center secured the largest grant the College of Education has ever received – $20 million from the Institute of Education Sciences – and what is thought to be the largest grant ever awarded to any college or school of education.
In total, Vaughn has been responsible for around $60 million in funding since she joined the College of Education.

Currently, she is principal investigator on several Institute of Education Sciences, Texas Education Agency and U.S. Department of Education research grants as well as a major National Institute for Child Health and Human Development grant which is allowing her to investigate response to intervention in students with reading difficulties.

During her more than three decades of scholarship, Vaughn has been recognized with numerous honors, including:

  • Distinguished Researcher Award from the American Educational Research Association
  • UT Austin’s Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Award
  • Special Education Research Award from the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  • Jeannette E. Fleischner Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Learning Disabilities from the CEC
  • Albert J. Harris Award from the International Reading Association
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from The Institute for Literacy and Learning
  • J. Lee Wiederholdt Award from the Council for Learning Disabilities

She has authored more than 35 books that have informed instructional design and other other researchers’ scholarship. She has also written more than 250 research articles. In addition, she has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Learning Disabilities and serves on the editorial review boards for 10 different journals that focus on individuals with disabilities.

“This Career Research Excellence Award is such a fitting tribute to Dr. Vaughn’s stature in the field of education,” said Justiz. “And it is a wonderful way to say ‘thank you’ to her for working so diligently to make sure that all children have an opportunity to learn.”

Photos by: Christina S. Murrey