Special Education Professor Earns UNC's Top Faculty Honor

Kay Ferrell

Kay Ferrell

A University of Northern Colorado special education professor internationally known for her work in the development and education of individuals with visual disabilities -- particularly infants and preschoolers -- has been named winner of the 2014 M. Lucile Harrison Award, the university's top faculty honor.

UNC Professor of Special Education Kay Alicyn Ferrell was selected for the award that annually recognizes a faculty member with a distinguished career in teaching, professional activity and service, all traits that marked the career of M. Lucile Harrison.

Ferrell, a member of the UNC faculty for 22 years, will be honored at spring commencement ceremonies May 9-10.

In addition to teaching and mentoring students at UNC, Ferrell also has served as assistant dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences and as director of the School of Special Education, and she's coordinated graduate programs in visual impairment and early childhood special education, and the doctoral program in special education.

She was active in the classroom even when she held administrative positions, earning praise from her students and serving as a mentor for them and new faculty members.

As one colleague said in a letter supporting Ferrell's nomination for the award, "Professor Ferrell continually receives positive feedback on her teaching and advising, and provides a model of student-centered instruction."

In 2001, she co-founded UNC's National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities, which served as an international clearing house of resources for teachers and parents of children with visual disabilities.

Ferrell has collaborated on 69 external funding proposals, resulting in grant funding of nearly $15 million since 1982.

She was principal investigator of the ground-breaking Project Prism, the first study of child development to focus on children with visual impairments and the ways in which their development is similar to or different from that of typically sighted children.

Her current research involves adapting the Boehm Test of Basic Concepts for preschool and primary age children with visual impairments in collaboration with the American Printing House for the Blind.

She's presented at dozens of regional, national and international conferences, and authored numerous books and monographs, including 2011's Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child who is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow.

As one colleague put it in a letter supporting Ferrell's nomination for the Harrison award, "Describing Dr. Ferrell as an active and productive scholar is an understatement. It takes 37 pages in her vita to list all her scholarly outcomes: books, book chapters, juried articles, presentations, monographs, and grants."

Ferrell has received more than 20 local, state, national and international awards for her service and contributions to her field. Organizations that have recognized her contributions include the American Foundation for the Blind, which in 2013 awarded Ferrell the Migel Medal, the highest honor in the visually disabilities field.

Ferrell also has received awards from the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Columbia University's Center for Opportunities and Outcomes for People with Disabilities and the Council for Exceptional Children.

The Harrison Award, however, is special, she said.

"I've received multiple awards from my field and they're all very special, but this is an award from my closest colleagues, the people I see every day," Ferrell said. "Nothing could speak more to my work than that."

She currently serves on the Scientific Review Panel for the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, and was appointed by three Colorado governors as a trustee for the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, and will complete eight years of service in June.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Russian language and literature from George Washington University, a master's in special education for the blind and visually impaired from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in special education from the University of Pittsburgh.

Ferrell serves as a marshal at UNC commencement ceremonies and is a season-ticket holder for UNC's football, volleyball and women's basketball teams. Her husband, Richard Gibboney, is retired from the UNC Libraries, and her daughter, Galina Leiphart, is a civil and structural engineer with Tsiouvaras Simmons Holderness Inc. in Denver.

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