Meet Joy Smiley, an elementary education major with a special education endorsement at the University of Mississippi.
Smiley is planning on finishing her undergraduate degree in May. But, she is also graduating with something special. This year, Smiley was selected as an awardee for an Undergraduate Track-1 Summer Research Fellowship. She was granted $3,000 to research her proposed topic, “Are we giving our teachers enough training on special education?”
After narrowing down the applicants to 50 students, UM awarded 12 fellowships to students and Smiley was the only awardee from the School of Education.
“The research specifically looks into the benefits of a special education endorsement linked into the curriculum of a bachelor’s degree in education,” Smiley said. “It also asks in-service teachers who have already received a bachelor’s or master’s degree, how they feel on the matter.”
With her awarded funds, Joy spent the summer traveling the country from Connecticut to California, interviewing teachers about her proposed research question.
Joy started this process by sending out a Qualtrics survey to licensed teachers in 15 different states. The survey included questions about how prepared teachers feel in regard to special education situations in the classroom.
Joy was thrilled with more than 50 responses and more to come. Teachers across the country were able to candidly execute the survey.
According to Smiley’s statistics, teachers felt they needed more special education preparation before entering the classroom. Smiley’s end goal in her research is to show that a special education endorsement, like the one offered through UM’s elementary education program, will be beneficial for education students and should be embedded into the curriculum.
Smiley is already looking ahead to take her findings to the next step. She wants to introduce an online professional development program for teachers that can replace traditional lectures with a more interactive and stimulating educational experience. She hopes to advance her studies and apply for a Track-3 Graduate Research Fellowship in the future, when she begins her master’s studies at UM next year.
“This is a new concept, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Smiley said. “A lot of teachers who have been in the field for so long have not had this training. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
By Sara McAlister