Mason awarded three grants to prepare the next generation of special education faculty

PhD graduates stand with Mason special education professor and Project ASPIRE co-principal investigator Anya Evmenova (fourth from left).

George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development received three grants totaling $3,750,000 this month from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare the next generation of special education faculty. The grants will fund three Division of Special Education and disAbility Research projects: Project ASPIRE, Project PRISE, and Virginia is for Leaders.

“There is an acute need for special education faculty to prepare special education teachers, which is a critical and persistent shortage area in K-12 schools,” said Sheri Berkeley, special education professor and co-principal investigator for Virginia is for Leaders with Linda Mason and Margaret Weiss. “In addition to needing enough faculty to prepare the large numbers of teachers needed every year, the need is especially urgent to prepare higher education personnel because many existing faculty are reaching retirement age.”

The grants will support 15 doctoral students while they complete studies leading to careers as higher education faculty.

“It is considered a huge accomplishment in our field for a university to win one of these awards, so we are exceptionally enthusiastic about being awarded three in the same year,” Berkeley said.

“To have all three awarded is enormously affirming that Mason faculty are situated extremely well, and proposed innovative ways to prepare PhD students to pursue careers in higher education,” said Peggy King-Sears, special education professor and co-principal investigator with Anna Evmenova on Project ASPIRE.

The impact of the doctoral students’ legacies will be significant, particularly for K-12 students with disabilities, said Sarah Nagro, assistant professor of special education and principal investigator of Project PRISE.

“The program will be life-changing,” Nagro said. “Students who are ready to stretch themselves will have experiences across teaching, research, and advocacy that will no doubt influence the lens through which they approach their career moving forward.”

These experiences will include engagement with Mason’s expert faculty, leaders in national education organizations, school-level professional personnel, policymakers, and prospective teachers looking to learn about educating students with disabilities, Nagro said.

The grants will fund three projects:

  • Project ASPIRE (Advancing Special Education Pedagogy, Innovation, and Research toward Effective Interventions), which focuses on technology in teacher preparation and research for students with high-incidence disabilities.
  • Project PRISE (Policy and Research-Intensive Special Education), a collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University, which will link research to policy to target the special education teacher shortage.
  • Virginia is for Leaders, a collaboration with University of Virginia, that will focus on the development of experts in evidence-based literacy practices for students with high-incidence disabilities.

Potential applicants must be accepted into the PhD program. The application deadline is Jan. 15, 2020, and courses begin summer or fall 2020. An information session will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 19 in Finley 114. For more information, visit