UAB School of Education reaches major milestones in strategic, broad approach to transforming lives

The School of Education looks to enhance learning outcomes, health and wellness of P-12 population, as well as of adults in Alabama and around the world.

Written by: Tiffany Westry

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voltz strategic planDeborah Voltz, EdD, Dean, School of Education, helps high school student during Innovative Learning Collaborative pilot program at Parker High School.Since establishing the initial framework of its strategic plan in 2011, the UAB School of Education has refined goals and objectives and is concentrating efforts around several areas through 2017.

“The School of Education is working to impact human potential more broadly,” said Dean Deborah L. Voltz, Ed.D. “We recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between health and education. This is reflected in excellence in faculty research and programs that give students the training and knowledge to enhance P-12 education and health and wellness for individuals in Alabama and around the world.”

The school’s focus through 2017 includes strengthening enrollment, enhancing student support services, expanding online program offerings, increasing external funding, and increasing the number of educators prepared to work in high-poverty schools and in high-needs areas such as math, science, special education and English as a second language.

“The UAB School of Education plays a very important role in improving the quality of education in Alabama, a goal to which the school is extremely dedicated,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “With Dean Voltz’s leadership, faculty, staff, students and supporters are working together in innovative ways to make a substantial impact on education in our community and beyond.”

Innovation in teaching

The school saw a highly successful first year with its UABTeach program, far surpassing enrollment expectations and receiving significant philanthropic support. Designed to quickly produce a new teaching force of highly qualified instructors in science, technology, engineering and math, the program allows undergraduate STEM majors to receive a subject-matter degree and certification to teach at the secondary level within a four-year graduation plan. The program enrolled 70 freshman and sophomore students last fall. It is the only program of its kind in Alabama and will graduate its first class in 2017.

Opportunities for School of Education students also extend overseas, as UAB is the only university in the state to partner with the Peace Corps. Students looking to combine graduate school with the Peace Corps can do so as Peace Corps Master’s International students in the School of Education, with 14 PCMI master’s degree options. PCMI students complete most of their courses at UAB and spend two years overseas as volunteers working in a career related to their master’s degree.

A new honors program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and an existing program in the Department of Human Studies give students the opportunity to collaborate with faculty to pursue their intellectual interests through research or a service project designed to address a particular societal need as it relates to their field of study.

Other exciting new degree programs are emerging in the school. The UA System Board of Trustees recently approved a doctoral program in educational studies in diverse populations, and a master’s option in school psychometry. The school’s online degree offerings have also grown from two to five fully online programs.

Supporting its exceptional programs is the School of Education’s Office of Student Services, which is developing innovative new initiatives to help students reach their educational goals. The office has developed a new proactive advising model to assist undergraduate students in identifying academic challenges early in their academic careers and utilizing appropriate resources to address those challenges. Additional initiatives to further enhance student services are on the horizon.

The strength of the school’s programs is reflected in the success of its alumni. School of Education alumni have been named Alabama Teacher of the Year — the top teacher in the state — for the last three years, and one has gone on to be a finalist for the national award — one of four top teachers in the country.

The strength of the school’s programs is reflected in the success of its alumni. School of Education alumni have been named Alabama Teacher of the Year — the top teacher in the state — for the last three years, and one has gone on to be a finalist for the national award — one of four top teachers in the country.

Innovation in research

In 2014, the school was awarded a seven-year, $49 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. The Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant provides funding to states to enhance services for students, parents and teachers at high-poverty middle and high schools.

UAB serves as the hub of GEAR UP Alabama, which will impact about 10,450 students from 18 school districts and 53 schools in Alabama’s Black Belt. The program will work with a cohort of students in either sixth or seventh grade and follow them through their first year of college.

With the help of a philanthropic gift from AT&T Alabama, the UAB Innovative Learning Collaborative launched a pilot program with Birmingham City Schools’ Parker High. UAB education students worked with 50 students from Parker High School’s Academy of Urban Educators to better engage them in the learning process and improve their writing skills. One area tested by the program is the use of tablet computers preloaded with reading and writing tools.

A recent $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will assist the school’s early childhood special education program in preparing students, through an interdisciplinary program of study, for careers as early interventionists to improve services and results for young children with disabilities and their families throughout Alabama. The program will provide full scholarships to 14 scholars each year for five years in order to address a state shortage of highly qualified personnel in this area.

The school is focused not only on enhancing learning outcomes for the P-12 population in Alabama and around the world, but also on improving health and wellness for people of all ages. Recently funded research in the school’s Department of Human Studies ranges from exploring family counseling-based approaches to childhood obesity and the effects of aerobic exercise training and exercise intensity in premenopausal women to exploring women’s emotional barriers to exercise.

Innovation in service

Keeping with the university’s mission, the School of Education continues to be active in service.

Renovations are complete for the school’s recently established Maryann Manning Family Literary Center, and plans for its grand opening are underway. The center was established in 2014 to honor and continue the work of longtime faculty member Maryann Manning, Ed.D. The center brings together expertise from many areas of literacy to provide services for children and families throughout the state, regionally and globally.

Planning for next year’s Girls in Science in Engineering Day is underway. GSED is a unique, free event created by two UAB students in 2011 to inspire and empower Birmingham-area middle school girls to achieve and excel in science and engineering fields. It is a day for local middle school girls to come to UAB and participate in fun science and engineering activities led by women who are professors, scientists and students from UAB and the surrounding community.

Since 2011, the UAB Community Counseling Clinic, housed in the School of Education building, has filled a service gap for people in Jefferson County by providing low-cost mental health counseling. The center sees an average of 112 patients a year and partners with more than 60 community organizations and agencies for referrals. The clinic is run by School of Education faculty. Services are provided by advanced graduate students and supervised by doctoral-level faculty. The clinic is working to expand its outreach within the community.

The school looks to create new partnerships and strengthen existing ones to develop innovative approaches for addressing areas of critical need locally and beyond.