'Exceptional Learning' is new Ph.D. program at TTU

Teaching a child who oftentimes worries where his or her next meal will come from is no easy task.

At Tennessee Technological University, faculty members want to address such challenges by offering a new Ph.D. program in "Exceptional Learning" Ñ a program that will prepare teachers and professionals how to effectively deal with the hungry student, or an abused child who suffers from an emotional behavior disorder, or even a child with autism or attention deficit disorder, students commonly referred to as "special needs."

"Exceptional learning focuses on at-risk and diverse children and their families," said Dean Richey, interim dean of TTU's College of Education.

"We've looked carefully at the needs not only for the Upper Cumberland but for the entire Southeast and the nation to help preschool and school-aged children who may be affected by various at-risk factors, such as poverty, disability and illiteracy."

Recently, the Tennessee Board of Regents granted TTU, centrally located in the Upper Cumberland region, the ability to offer the new program; the program must also be approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in January.

At-risk and "diverse" learners are those who have either emotional or physical disabilities which make it more challenging for them to learn. They comprise approximately 19 percent of the school-aged population in the U.S.

The Upper Cumberland area, in particular, is a high-risk area with a large percentage of its population identified as economically disadvantaged, Richey said.

"Given the demographics of the Upper Cumberland region and our previous work at Tennessee Tech, the needs of rural populations will be a major area of emphasis within the program," Richey explained.

The intent of the program core is to create for the professional, through a carefully planned sequence of course work and experiences, an understanding of the context in which "exceptional" and "at-risk" characteristics emerge, Richey added.

"Prevention and intervention strategies will be taught so students at-risk and their families are given a voice and become active participants and contributors in the learning process," he said.

"Core courses will reflect cultural and learning diversity, rural schools and communities, learning and cognition, family collaboration and applications of technology with at-risk populations," he added.

The proposed Ph.D. program will have three concentrations: 1) young children and families; 2) literacy; 3) applied behavior and learning.

Tennessee Tech already offers graduate programs at the Master of Arts and Educational Specialist levels, which focus more traditionally on specific curricular areas related to the Ph.D. program.

Additional support to these programs is provided through graduate programs in curriculum, elementary education, secondary education and health and physical education.

"The proposed program reflects an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to preparing future leaders and applied researchers who will help improve the lives of numerous children at-risk and their families," Richey said.

For more information about the proposed Exceptional Learning program or about the College of Education, call Dean Richey at 931/372-3124.