College News

EPSY Professor Smita Mehta offers gift-buying tips for kids with special needs

Toys are always among the hottest-selling items of the holiday season, and this December marks Safe Toys and Gifts Month – a nationwide push to ensure presents match the abilities of the receiving child. Smita Mehta, a professor of special education in the Department of Educational Psychology in the UNT College of Education, offers tips for families to buy toys for children with special needs.

“Play is a tool to promote learning for all children, especially those with special needs,” says Mehta, adding the toys can serve a role in a child’s education. “Play serves very important functions in cognitive, language, social, communication and emotional development.”

Mehta says gift givers should look for toys that can help turn the child’s developmental challenges into strengths:

  • “When selecting toys or educational play materials, think from the perspective of the child,” says Mehta, a former preschool teacher who also used to assess babies ages 12 to 36 months for the presence of a disability.
  • “Individuals with disabilities and emotional behavior disorders often lack strong social interaction and communication skills, which are critical for success in life,” she continues. “Select toys such as talking books, stuffed animals or puppets to incorporate language learning and social interaction.”
  • “For children with visual impairment or weak eyesight, it’s important to incorporate things that activate other sensory elements – such as sounds, movements or textures,” she adds. “Try textures like soft versus hard toys. Something like Play-Doh can teach the child to manipulate texture. Also, let the child play with different shapes, like teddy bears or dolls that have different textured body parts.”
  • “For children lacking fine motor skills, puzzles that come with pegs are easy to use and help improve those skills,” says Mehta.
  • “Board games like ‘Chutes and Ladders’ and ‘Connect Four’ teach so many skills, such as taking turns with partners and eye-hand coordination,” she says.

Mehta says many everyday play items, sometimes with small modifications, can help also work well for kids with special needs:

  • “Balls are fun, but children may have difficulty with eye-hand coordination for catching and throwing,” she continues. “For that, start with a less complex skill. Sit on the floor with the child and roll the ball back and forth on the ground.”
  • “Books are a great way to learn, but some children may lack fine motor skills that makes it difficult to turn pages. However, the adult should not flip all the pages, which sends the communication to the child that the adult is in charge. Instead, use Post-it® flags or tape small strips of paper to create page turners,” Mehta says.

Mehta adds that what is done with gifts afterward can be just as important:

  • “Start by setting an environment that encourages children to explore and play,” she says. “Parents should resist the urge to teach or explain during play. For instance, if you have a toy school bus, try just pushing the bus around or turning the wheels instead of trying to explain the parts of the bus. Otherwise, for the child, all the charm is lost with the play itself. It’s important to ensure that play is play and that the adults follow the child’s lead instead of setting an agenda.”
  • “Work on the child’s weaknesses while he or she is young,” she says, adding that weaknesses can be more challenging to change when the child is older.
  • Mehta says children with special needs should receive similar opportunities as other children to learn different things through play. “Many people think that some kids will not benefit from play because they have a disability, and that’s simply not true,” she says.
  • “Be patient,” says Mehta. “Sometimes parents want the play to be perfect and will get anxious when their child struggles. Don’t worry about that; just focus on having a good time and ensuring the kid is actively engaged. The learning will come.”

COE students win honors at national gifted education conference

Professionals and students from across the country gathered at the National Association for Gifted Children conference in Florida Nov. 5 to discuss new developments in gifted and talented education. And while there, three of the 16 UNT doctoral students attending received awards.

Dianna Mullet won the Doctoral Student Award, Kendal Smith won the Doctoral-Level In-Progress Research Award, and Janessa Bower won a second-place award in the non-doctoral division of the Graduate Student Research Gala.

“UNT students have won the NAGC doctoral-level in-progress research award three out of the last four years, which is a real testament to the excellent program Dr. Rinn and Dr. Kettler have developed,” Smith said in reference to Educational Psychology faculty members Anne Rinn and Todd Kettler, who work with doctoral students.

The NAGC conference is the largest conference devoted to gifted education research and teaching in the nation.

“I saw parents who were looking for answers for their children who are gifted, teachers seeking guidance for the classroom, and researchers who were eager to learn from each other in a collaborative community,” Bower said.

According to Smith, scholars were able to present their research directly to practitioners at the conference. The practitioners gave feedback about what is best to implement in classrooms and highlighted areas in the research that could be improved.  

“Participants at the NAGC conference discussed enhancing the growth and development of gifted and talented K-12 students through advocacy, community building and research,” Mullet said.

According to the NAGC website, each state has its own definitions of gifted and talented and therefore have different programs for students on a state and even district level. The NAGC conference is a time for professionals to gather and share their techniques and ideas for finding the best ways to educate gifted and talented children nationwide.

“NAGC is the major professional organization of the gifted and talented education community. Over 3,000 gifted education researchers and specialists attended this year's conference,” Mullet said. “I hope everyone gained a sense of community and cohesiveness, both among our UNT attendees and in the larger community. I also hope that everyone learned about the many new and innovative research approaches that are emerging in our field.”

Visit for more information and a full list of award winners.

Faculty encouraged to enter student pieces in writing competition

Submissions are now being accepted for the 2017 University Writing Awards, sponsored by the UNT Faculty Senate. Faculty members may nominate pieces written by students in the 2016 calendar year in a variety of categories. The deadline is Feb. 17.

The categories are: 

  • Graduate Creative Writing: Fiction
  • Graduate Creative Writing: Nonfiction
  • Graduate Creative Writing: Poetry
  • Graduate Scholarly Writing: Argumentative or Expository
  • Undergraduate Creative Writing: Fiction
  • Undergraduate Creative Writing: Nonfiction
  • Undergraduate Creative Writing: Poetry
  • Undergraduate Scholarly Writing: Argumentative or Expository

Winners will be recognized at Honors Day on April 21 and will receive cash prizes ranging from $325 to $500.

Submissions must be 20 pages or less, typed (double-spaced), using 12-point Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins and page numbers in the upper right-hand corner. The student’s name and the title of each work must be submitted on a separate “Name and Title” page. Submissions will be accepted via email at

For full competition rules and additional information, visit

COE faculty member aids in rare study on terrorism

In the early hours of April 2, 2015, terrorists in Kenya launched an attack on a university full of students. Hours later, 147 people, mostly from Garissa University College, were dead. Traumatic incidents of this type and survivor resiliency have been widely studied in the West. However, in Africa, where such violence is a growing concern, research is scarce about how students who have experienced such violence can be helped in finishing their degrees.

In one of the first studies on the topic, University of North Texas researcher Marc Cutright joined James Oteni Jowi of Moi University, in a qualitative inquiry into what practices might best help those individuals heal and complete their academic goals.

"These are young people who had been shot multiple times, lost limbs or witnessed executions of their classmates," said Cutright, an associate professor of higher education and the director of the UNT Higher Education Development Initiative. "Sadly, we'll probably continue to see heinous attacks like this. We, as researchers, wanted to know if there were lessons that could be learned that could help these and any future students in their emotional recovery so that they can continue with and finish their education."

The study, "Recovery from terrorism: Testimony from survivors of Garissa and lessons learned for supporting resilience," will be presented at the Society for Research into Higher Education annual conference December 7–9 in Wales, and also at the Comparative International Education Society annual conference March 5–9 in Atlanta.

After the 2015 bloodshed, the roughly 450 surviving students were offered the opportunity to transfer to Moi University in Kenya or to sister campuses. Most declined. Of those who transferred to Moi University, 11 completed the research interviews.

For a few, it was the first time they had been allowed to speak at length about that day.

Among the findings that will be presented in December, the researchers noticed a few interesting takeaways:

  • Counseling should be long term. All 11 students initially received counseling, but free treatment in the following months was rare. The students wanted additional therapy so they could cope with unresolved and new issues that had developed. Students also wanted peer-to-peer counseling to provide help to students who declined support from authorities.
  • Faith-based counseling can be a part of, but may not be the sole, solution. Many of the Christian students were at the chapel reciting morning prayers when the attack began; afterward, they found comfort in God and their faith. However, others blamed God for the attack.
  • A financial advocate should ensure contributions and distributions are transparent and fair.Most of the students received nothing from the millions of shillings that had been donated on the students' behalf. Several survivors who asked about this were threatened, directly and indirectly, with expulsion from school. The students felt a representative in financial dealings would prevent misuse of funds.
  • Survivors need a sense of belonging and community. Some survivors kept friendships from their time at Garissa; however, few made new friends at the new school and several said they had withdrawn from the social world. Many felt the chance to tell their stories to others would help.

Curriculum & Instruction master's student ready for second career in the classroom

Sue Dinaro always loved being an elementary school teacher, and after four years, she was on her way to becoming a master teacher. But when she moved from New Mexico to Texas when her husband’s job wasSusan Dinaro relocated, she had trouble finding a teaching position and knew she’d have to look for something else. Wanting to stay in education, she came across an opportunity at the University of North Texas that tapped into her first career in law enforcement.

Little did she know that accepting the position five years ago at UNT – plus a special scholarship for faculty and staff members – would put her one step closer to going back to the classroom.

In the meantime, her UNT job seemed a perfect match.

“This was coming back home for me,” says Dinaro, who landed in the UNT Police Department as a support specialist in charge of property and evidence. “Everything fit.”

Dinaro thrived in her role at UNT, and this year, she was named “Property Technician of the Year” for the entire state by the Texas Association of Property and Evidence Inventory Technicians.

Still, that itch for teaching kids never left. Dinaro decided to get recertified in Texas – unsure whether she’d ever have the chance to teach again.

“There are so many kids out there who struggle,” Dinaro says. “You have to learn to read before you can get anywhere. So many kids, and even adults, don’t have that love of reading, but a good teacher can inspire them and create in them a fire and interest to want to read.”

After learning about her past in teaching, several of Dinaro’s police colleagues, as well as her family, encouraged her to enroll in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction degree program through the UNT College of Education. Then, co-workers informed her about UNT’s Faculty/Staff/Retiree/Dependent Educational Scholarship – which pays the UNT Board of Regents-designated tuition and mandatory fees for qualifying individuals who are pursuing secondary degrees. 

“There is nothing holding you back if you apply yourself,” says Dinaro, noting that the excuses she had for not getting her master’s degree were gone. “It’s an excellent scholarship.”

Now in her first year as a UNT student, the former teacher is going back to school – for the third time – to pursue a teaching career.

Dinaro first started her bachelor’s degree in the 1980s. However, she chose work over school after receiving a job offer from a police station. The first of her four children came along shortly thereafter, and school was put on the back burner. She finally completed her bachelor’s degree in 2004 and taught until her family moved to Texas seven years ago.

Now, Dinaro, 53, says the curriculum and instruction program has been a perfect fit for her post-retirement career plans, giving her the ability to eventually return to teaching in a new, expanded role.

“This isn’t the typical college path people choose to take,” she admits. “It’s not the easiest thing, but you have to think that ‘maybe I can do it.’”

Working with her supervisors in the police department, she has been able to adjust her schedule to fit in classes and coursework. The ability to take online courses will help, too.

“I see the future of UNT involving online courses,” Dinaro says. “UNT has come full circle from a small teachers college to now offering classes in education that are fully online. It meets the needs of today’s students.”

She’s not entirely sure where the degree will take her, but she hopes to eventually pursue an instructional post that allows her to lead the charge for curriculum decision-making and mapping for a team of teachers.

“Someone needs to give you a push sometimes,” she says. “My co-workers at UNT kept me encouraged in my pursuit of an excellent education.”

Free workshop aims to give educators insight on teaching students about Holocaust

By Raquel Talamantes

Current and future educators will learn about how to best present historical information about the Holocaust to their students at the UNT College of Education’s “Echoes and Reflections: Leaders in Holocaust Education” workshop.

The event, set for Nov. 4 at UNT’s Willis Library, is particularly designed for pre-service and certified middle school and high school teachers who teach topics about the Holocaust, but it is open to the public. The workshop is free, thanks to support received through a UNT Office for Faculty Success Mentoring Grant.

The event was coordinated by Ursula Schwarz, associate project director for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). She reached out to COE Librarian Jo Monahan, who then contacted Educational Psychology Professor Rebecca Glover to collaborate on the event.

“The COE was given this opportunity by complete chance,” Monahan said.

According to Glover, the workshop will feature speaker Kim Klett, a teacher of A.P. English Literature and Composition and Holocaust Literature at Dobson High School in Meza, Ariz., and a member of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

“Attendees will be provided a curriculum book with lesson plans and access to a variety of online resources designed to develop best practices for teaching about the Holocaust,” Glover said. “Jo was glad to see the speaker will have both primary and secondary resources for the attendees. The curriculum and resources also provide educators with tools that give guidance regarding individual responsibility in a diverse society and to maintain respect for others’ differences.”

The goal of the workshop is for participants to gain knowledge and skills about how to discuss Holocaust information with students, as well as ways to enhance educators’ teaching skills on the topic. Glover and Monahan hope what attendees learn at the workshop will be taken back and taught in their classrooms.

“What a wonderful opportunity to have this training available to us, especially because of the politics of the world at this time,” Monahan said. “It’s amazing that we can have a conversation related to diversity and history despite all the terrible things that have happened, and we can give future teachers the education and training to deal with these topics in an appropriate manner.”

The event is set for 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, in Willis Library room 140. Participants must register at before the event.


Community college access, affordability focus of upcoming symposium

By Raquel Talamantes

The UNT College of Education will host a fall symposium focusing on how policy affects community college access and affordability on Thursday, Oct. 27, at Brookhaven College in Dallas. The Bill J. Priest Center for Community College Education, in partnership with the Dallas County Community College District, designed the program to help North Texas higher education professionals gather and reflect on policies that affect students across North Texas today.

“This forum brings together higher education professionals who are familiar with innovations that address community college finance in different states and at the national level to share their understandings and perspectives for discussion by North Texas community college/higher education professionals,” said Beverly Bower, the UNT Don A. Buchholz Endowed Chair and Professor of Higher Education.

Symposium speakers include Paul Fain, news editor for Inside Higher Education; Patrick B. Crane of the Oregon Higher Education Commission; Emily House of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; and Joe May, chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District. The panelists will give their opinions on what needs to be done to ensure proper policies are put in place for North Texas students.

The symposium’s goal is to bring attention to community college students’ struggle to pay for their higher education as they move toward achieving professional and personal goals. Bower said community colleges face the challenge of financing their services and programs that are beneficial to a student’s ability to succeed. This is why policies have been made by the state, community colleges and universities to try and ease this process so students can receive the best and least financially straining education possible, she said.

“I hope symposium participants will leave the event informed about different approaches to community college financing and funding, as well as the effects these innovations can have on student access and success,” Bower said. “I also hope that they develop new ideas from the day’s discussion that they can take back to their campuses to improve student access and affordability.”

Bower said the symposium also aims to remind participants that many college students struggle to pay for basic needs like housing and food. To help raise awareness, symposium participants are encouraged to bring peanut butter, protein (tuna fish, canned chicken, canned meat), pasta, ramen, canned fruit, toiletry items, baby food, diapers, wipes and/or any non-perishable food item to donate to The Cave, Brookhaven College’s food pantry.

The symposium is set for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27. To R.S.V.P., visit

K-12, higher education leaders to grapple with taboo topics at UNT conference

What: The 33rd annual Educational Leadership Conference at the University of North Texas. This year’s theme, “Crucial Conversations on Equity and Excellence,” will feature talks, presentations and interactive group activities designed to bring issues such as race, faith and sexual orientation to the forefront of education conversations and initiatives. 

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 (Wednesday).

Where: UNT's Gateway Center, 801 North Texas Blvd.                    

Register: Deadline is Oct. 31 (Monday). $150 for general registration. $75 for a currently enrolled UNT student or employee. Register and get information at

Parking: Parking permits for the special event zone of Lot 20, located across the street from the Gateway Center, are included with registration.

Media: To reserve parking and press passes, contact or 940-369-7782 by Oct. 28 (Friday).

Race and ethnicity, gender, language, sexual orientation, faith and ableness – topics often described as too taboo for conversation – will be the subjects of the 2016 Educational Leadership Conference at the University of North Texas. The longtime annual event fosters thought around learning topics that can create large-scale change in educational institutions.

“We really wanted to take on concepts that are typically deemed undiscussable,” said Miriam Ezzani, assistant professor of teacher education and administration in the UNT College of Education. “After all, our students in K-12 education and higher education represent these differences in our classrooms.”

In a twist, this year’s conference, which usually targets leadership in the primary and secondary school systems, will also feature discussions of interest to K-12 teachers, as well as collegiate educators, administrators and instructors.

“It’s an opportunity for teachers and faculty to learn alongside leaders in K-12 and university institutions,” said Ezzani. “We anticipate this conference to be a springboard for deeper discussion on these topics when participants return to their schools, districts, programs, departments and colleges.” 

This year’s keynote presenters, Randy Lindsey and Ray Terrell, are two of the most prolific writers and presenters on diversity and cultural proficiency in the nation, said Ezzani. The pair will engage the audience with interactive activities on topics that can be hard to talk about – with the idea of increasing understanding, appreciation and valuing of differences and diversity. Ultimately, the goal is to close gaps in education and to build organizational support and large-scale initiatives that create access and equity for students.

The conference takes place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 (Wednesday) at the UNT Gateway Center, 801 North Texas Blvd. Register and get information online at

The conference is sponsored by the UNT Office of the President, Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Division of Institutional Equity and Diversity, the College of Education, the Department of Teacher Education and Administration, and the Educational Leadership Program.


Story by UNT News Service 

Counseling professor wins Outstanding Pre-Tenure Counselor Educator Award

By Raquel Talamantes

Amanda Giordano, an assistant professor in the UNT College of Education’s counseling program, has received the 2016 Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES) Outstanding Pre-Tenure Counselor Educator Award. This award recognizes those who show fantastic progress in the early stages of their academic career in the areas of research, service and teaching.

“Considering that [Giordano] is still early in her career as a counselor educator, I am delighted that both her extensive accomplishments and her promising future are being recognized by a major professional counseling association,” Jan Holden, department chair of counseling and higher education, said.  “Her membership on the counseling program faculty not only serves our students and profession so well, but also contributes to the program’s nationally ranked stature and to the College of Education’s excellent reputation.”

Giordano specializes in addictions counseling and religious/spiritual issues in counseling. She also teaches courses about addictions counseling, diversity issues in counseling and counseling theory.

“I think these courses are really important, and I feel very honored to teach them,” Giordano said. “My goals as an educator are to help counseling students foster a better understanding of addiction in order to cultivate empathy for those with chemical or process addictions, and to help counseling students identify and overcome racial/ethnic biases or preconceived notions they may harbor about groups of people. It is very rewarding to be a part of those processes.”

A large portion of Giordano’s work involves research. She conducts research studies that explore collegiate substance use, sexual addiction, the association between religion/spirituality and addiction, and religious coping. During her five years at UNT, Giordano has gathered a six- to eight-member Addictions Counseling Research Team consisting of UNT master’s and graduate students and other UNT colleagues. During their three years together, they have published four studies and are currently working on a fifth.

In addition to working, teaching and conducting research studies, Giordano also serves as a board member and treasurer of the Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) and serves on two editorial review boards for counseling journals.

“I have been able to meet some amazing people in the counseling field through these service positions,” Giordano said. “Also, at the local level, I have been able to provide diversity training to non-profit organizations that are working to enhance race relations in the community.”

Giordano said her award is testament to the UNT counseling program’s commitment to junior faculty success.

“You always wonder how you can repay those who invested so much into your professional development, and I think winning an award like this is a real testament to the mentorship I have received along the way,” Giordano said. “It acknowledges the dedication of those who have trained, taught, inspired, and encouraged me thus far. I am very grateful for the men and women who have devoted their time, energy and wisdom into my career and I hope they see this award as their recognition too.”

Giordano will be recognized during the Awards Luncheon and Business Meeting at the 2016 SACES conference in New Orleans at noon October 7.

Curriculum & Instruction master’s goes online

The UNT College of Education’s Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, which aims to give current educators the skills they need to pursue leadership roles at the campus and district level, is now available almost completely online.

Program advisor Mei Hoyt said the program’s move to the web opens it up to more educators who are looking to expand their career opportunities.

“The program is designed for current teachers, but it’s often difficult for them to get to campus for classes,” she said. “Online we can offer more flexibility without compromising the high-quality education our students need.”

The program offers three concentrations: literacy, bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL), math, or a specialization in a select area of the student’s interest. Hoyt said students take 10 total courses — four core, four in the chosen concentration area and two electives — in addition to completing an online portfolio.

“Our students will gain critical digital literacy skills and research-based learning at an affordable cost,” Hoyt said. “We also work with students individually and try to cater the program to their needs.”