Melinda R. Pierson, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Special Education, California State University, Fullerton
Fulbright Specialist, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
In late July 2011, my family and I arrived in Poznan, Poland, 150 miles east of Berlin in the northern part of the country, for an experience that was to be the highlight of my summer. Adam Mickiewicz University (UAM) was in full summer mode at the time, with faculty collaborating on research projects and graduate students working to get a head start on the fall semester.
I had first visited UAM in October 2010 with a small group of faculty from the Cal State-Fullerton Department of Special Education who were interested in building a research partnership. When the faculty of UAM shared information about the inner workings of their education system, we learned of the vast differences between our two systems – especially the way that students identified as needing special education services were assisted in the schools. It then became my goal to assist with curriculum development in the area of special education. In the spring of 2011, UAM requested me as a Fulbright Specialist to develop this curriculum, to lecture to faculty and graduate students in the area of special education, and to continue research collaborations with several faculty in elementary education and special education.
When I arrived as a Fulbright Specialist, the door was wide open for the development of innovative programs. The first cohort of 60 students at UAM completing a double major in elementary education with a focus on mild/moderate disabilities began their program in October 2011. While at UAM as a Fulbright Specialist, I was able to assist in the development of their curriculum. This is a direct result of support from the Fulbright program. I will continue to assist UAM’s elementary education program faculty with curriculum development in the area of special education.
Besides the time I spent giving lectures and developing curriculum, I was able to begin collaborations on several research projects with the faculty in the School of Educational Studies. One project focuses on inclusive education and the perceptions of Polish adults about people with disabilities. The intent is that this longitudinal study will demonstrate that negative opinions of people with disabilities will slowly change as inclusion curriculum is added to the teacher preparation programs at UAM. Another research collaboration is the examination of social skills rated as important by classroom teachers in Poland. This is a comparative study with teachers in the United States to determine which social skills are necessary for success in the classroom. I will continue to work closely with the faculty at UAM to further develop these two projects.
After my Specialist grant, one of my partners from UAM visited my university for three weeks, where we continued our research collaboration and curriculum development. We are currently writing a Harmonia Grant offered by the Polish National Science Center to support gifted students in the Polish education system.
The Fulbright Program gave me the opportunity to spend several weeks working on projects that really will make a significant difference in the lives of children with special needs. I was so grateful for this chance to further the education of Polish teacher candidates in elementary education and special education and to expose my family to a new culture.