Karen Cowden is a professor of reading whose William C. Demetree Jr. Foundation Chair in Education for Special Needs is directed at “How to Build a Premier Learning Culture for Special Needs Students of the Orlando Community.”
The endowed chair will provide funds for Professor Cowden to research and visit special needs institutions/college(s) and capitalize on her expertise by focusing on the educational environment which best provides access and opportunities for special needs students and provides an inclusive learning culture.
In addition, this summer, Professor Cowden attended the A.H.E.A.D. (Association on Higher Education and Disability) National Conference.
The sessions included topics such as “How Disability Rights are Actually Civil Rights,” “Ways to Engage the Entire College Community in Serving Special Needs Students,” “Helping Faculty Learn How to Make Materials Accessible,” and more.
“Over the three days in July in the beautiful city of St. Paul, Minnesota, I truly did learn the diverse perspectives of serving students with special needs, and was surprisingly one of only two faculty members engaging in the conference experience. Being able to attend this conference not only showed me that we have a long way to go in building bridges between our faculty and special needs support teams, nation-wide, but also that I am encouraged with our work thus far at Valencia College in creating a visionary college experience for the future,” says Professor Cowden.
“I believe if we can learn from other institutions (and other sources) how building a suitable learning structure to serve special needs students at the community college level that is comparable as is afforded at a private, special needs institutions, Valencia College will have provided the Orlando community and the students’ quality learning opportunities.”
The work of Professor Cowden’s endowed chair goes well beyond her delivery of engaging faculty trainings through the “1-2-3 Captioning is Easy” or “Hands-On Accessibility” courses (in partnership with Stephanie Crosby, Assistant Director of Special Needs Services and Chris Cuevas, Technical Support Specialist with Special Needs Services). She has partnered with Deborah Larew, Director of the O.S.D., to serve on the newly-formed “Accessibility Advisory Committee,” a college-wide gathering of stakeholders from various roles in the college that are interested in enhancing and expanding the services to special needs students/staff.
Additionally, she has partnered with Dr. Falecia Williams and the “Learning Day” planning team to use some of the endowed chair funds for an honorarium, which would be awarded to the keynote speaker focusing on disability rights and engaging the community collaboration that the college provides for all citizens at this year’s west campus “Learning Day.” As always, Karen continues to promote cross-discipline collaboration and hospitality by organizing a “Lunch and Learn with the Office of Students with Disabilities (O.S.D.)” in the fall term and a “Dinner and Learn with the Office of Students with Disabilities” in the spring term, which brings together all staff/faculty and the staff from the O.S.D. for a meal and active learning experience that covers current trends and topics in special needs services.
Professor Cowden earned her master’s degree in elementary education at UCF with a specialty in reading and her bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in journalism and public relations at Florida State. She teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages, College Preparatory Reading, “1-2-3 Captioning is Easy,” “Hands-On Accessibility,” “Facilitating Online Learning,” and “Teaching in Our Learning College” at the West Campus.
“We really value the faculty collaboration from Professor Cowden and the endowed chair grant. She has understood and furthered O.S.D. goals far beyond what we could have done without this faculty champion. In particular I’d like to mention that she has taken her outcomes further than Special Needs. She has applied what she has garnered from this experience into best teaching practices for the diverse student body. She clearly delights in sharing this ah-ha moment with other faculty members. This is not about disability for Karen; it is about accessibility for all students,” says Dr. Larew.
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