Westmont Magazine Enabling Educators to Teach Children with Disabilities
Melinda Pullen Pierson ’94 wanted to teach in the toughest schools after earning a degree and secondary credential in English. Inspired by her deaf cousins and fieldwork at a deaf school, she got a job in special education at an elementary school in a poor, urban area, later moving to a middle school and then a high school. Eventually, she earned a special education credential and master’s degree at CSU Fullerton and a doctorate in special education at UC Riverside—all while teaching full time.
Mindy has been training teachers for 13 years, drawing on her experience at all levels of education. She chairs the Department of Special Education and directs the Center for International Partnerships
in Education at CSU Fullerton, where she seeks to globalize the curriculum. She unleashes her energy and passion on improving access to education for students with disabilities worldwide. She travels extensively and has built a network to assist schools in Eastern Europe,Asia and Africa improve their special education programs.
In 2011, Mindy received a Fulbright Specialist Scholarship to Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, where she trained Polish teachers to support students with mild to moderate disabilities, a first in that country. She returns this fall to continue working with faculty at the university.
Mindy led a special education conference in Kursk, Russia, in March to assist school psychologists, principals and special educators reform the Russian education system. She has co-written an article with the director of education in Moscow on changing policies for Russian children with disabilities, and she contributes to the Russian-American Education Forum, a journal that creates a bridge between the two countries.
Under a second Fulbright Specialist Scholarship to the University of Eichstaett in Ingolstadt, Germany, in 2013, Mindy will train general education teachers on inclusive practices for students with disabilities.
While she focuses on research and administrative duties, she also works with undergraduates and students in the credential program. She’s written a grant for students to study in Vietnam and provides international experiences for those unable to travel. One of her research projects pairs Fullerton students with teachers in Japan, Poland, Romania, Germany, England and Spain to study student performance.
“Working at a state university gives me opportunities to share Christ in indirect ways,” she says.
“International projects allow us to serve others, which helps students see Christ in action. I feel called to teach at a secular university; most of the schools I work with are secular, and I have developed relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.”
Mindy met her husband, Mike Pierson ’95, at Westmont; he works as a hospital administrator. She takes their three children, 14, 11 and 6, overseas with her whenever possible to broaden their perspectives and open up possibilities for service. Participating in Potter’s Clay helped develop her desire to make a difference.“I loved Westmont’s quality academic program, caring professors and opportunities to serve,” she says.
Mindy’s ties to Fullerton extend to her childhood; her father recently retired after a long career as a professor and dean of the College of Communications. She carries on her family’s legacy as Outstanding Faculty Member and Faculty Marshall in the College of Education, continuing her research, international service and teacher training in special education.