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College of Education

Project Promote builds special education advocates

Rashad Adams needed to advance his career while working as a practicing educator. Project Promote provides grant-funded doctoral education to students studying special education administration. Adams’ wife saw a social media post about the program and spurred him to look into it.

“My wife also works in special education,” says Adams. “She saw that they were looking for another person to fill the program and encouraged me to interview. I was accepted, and it’s been an amazing opportunity, though the learning curve is steep!”

Studying special education law has been most impactful for Adams.

“Many of these laws can be complicated to understand as a layperson,” says Adams. “Spending time with professors who are experts in the field is pivotal to advancing my career.”

The program participants have  a chance to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers and gain first-hand experience in advocacy work. In addition to the professional opportunity, this year’s trip created a space for the students to spend time with one another after two years of virtual programming.

“We met with legislators and their staff members to share our concerns,” says Adams. “It was a true ‘boots on the ground’ experience where we walked to Capitol Hill and met with people face-to-face.”

Before the trip, Adams was reluctant to see himself as an expert. These experiences really cemented his program knowledge and built his confidence as a professional and an educator. He is the only participant coming from an area of general practice, but now he is able to share this knowledge with fellow educators throughout his district.

“Dr. Yell is known throughout the nation,” says Adams. “I’m reaping the benefits of having experts and fellow practitioners weigh in on problems I’m facing in my day-to-day work. We need each other’s perspectives to be successful, and the community in this program is unparalleled.”

Adams shares that the expertise of the various faculty in the program has truly made the experience invaluable. Each faculty member brings a different lens to the curriculum and deepens the overall understanding.

Mary Stahl is a special education coordinator in Charleston County School District. After 20 years in public education, she knew she wanted to further her education, but she did not know how she would have the time to pursue a doctoral degree. Because Project Promote is funded through a federal grant, and many of the classes are web-based, it was the perfect opportunity for her.

“A colleague of mine heard about the program, and I was very motivated to apply,” says Stahl. “Knowing that the doctoral program offered a combination of special education, legal literacy and advocacy spoke to my passion for the field and brought together all the pieces I was looking for.”

Stahl works very closely with school administrators and teachers, as well as students and their families. As a resource to teachers throughout her district, her desire to help others fuels her work.

“The opportunity to develop a broader perspective of the field pulled me in,” says Stahl. “I know how necessary advocacy is, and I wanted to grow in my ability to use my voice for others that don’t always have the platform to use their own.”

Stahl found the trip to Washington D.C. to be powerful and motivating. She realized that there was often a disconnect between what educators and students experience in the field and the laws that govern the area of practice. The program’s coursework and field experiences gave the students the knowledge to share with legislators and agencies.

“I actually went to the Special Education Legal Summit in 2019,” says Stahl. “It was the last in-person summit before this year due to the pandemic. Though I had a prior experience to draw on, this visit really opened up my ability to share with think tanks and legislators. They really listened to us, and I hope we impact future policies.”

Stahl shares that getting to know her classmates in person was the other highlight of the trip.

“Collaboration is so important to the work that we do,” says Stahl. “Being together was a valuable experience. Each person brings a different set of perspectives and ideas.”

Stahl also credits her professors for deepening her passion for her work.

“Kathleen Marshall, Mitchell Yell and Susan Bon wrapped this program with love, encouragement and support” says Stahl. “Their passion for their work, and the field in general, is contagious. It empowers us.”


About Project Promote:

Project Promote is a leadership training grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The five-year grant was written by College of Education faculty members Mitchell Yell, Kathleen Marshall and Susan Bon. Project Promote funds 13 doctoral students in the special education administration doctoral program with emphasis on policy, advocacy and legal literacy. The grant also provides financial support for students to attend conferences and participate in the Special Education Legislative Summit held in Washington, D.C. each July.

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