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Student receives first fellowship posthumously honoring ASU professor

December 13, 2010

Some people struggle to make a difference while they are alive, others can’t seem to stop their philanthropic proliferation. Late Arizona State University Professor Robert Rutherford, Jr. is one of those people who continues to give after passing away.

Rutherford, whose legacy in research focused on children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders, has continued to drive developments in the field through the development of the Dr. Robert B. Rutherford, Jr. Memorial Fellowship in Special Education for those following in his footsteps. The first-ever recipient of the fellowship is Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College student Katie Sprouls, who is earning her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on special education.

Like Rutherford, Sprouls is concentrating her studies on students with emotional and behavioral disorders and is writing her dissertation about the differences in positive and negative feedback for students who have been identified as either high- or low-risk for having emotional and behavioral disorders.

“I aspire to continue my research to improve the education and life opportunities for students with emotional and behavioral disorders,” said Sprouls.

Teachers College Dean Mari Koerner presented Sprouls with the fellowship during the recent 34th Annual Teacher Educators for Children with Behavioral Disorders Conference, which was started by Rutherford in 1976.

“Katie Sprouls is a student who represents what this college is all about,” Koerner said. “She understands that education is a profession that demands excellence, dedication and professionalism in teaching those who most need teaching, support and guidance.”

One of the people looking forward to seeing the fellowship at work is Sarup Mathur, a former doctoral student of Rutherford. Mathur, who is an associate professor of special education with Teachers College, believes Sprouls’ work follows the type of research Rutherford would have supported.

“Her ability to collaborate with colleagues at ASU and in the public schools has created a research partnership that has the potential for guiding school practices as well as providing insights for teacher development,” Mathur said. “I am sure Dr. Rutherford will be proud of her accomplishments.”

Sprouls’ other accomplishments related to the field include her work as a school psychologist after obtaining both a bachelor’s of science and a Master’s degree in psychology. Aware of the unique issues posed by students with psychological disorders, Sprouls hopes to use her research to improve the lives of these children by following Rutherford’s example.

“I am humbled by the work of Dr. Rutherford. I hope to one day live up to his legacy in the field of education,” she said.
Those who knew Rutherford well couldn’t ask for more from the first recipient of the fellowship that bears his namesake. Mathur in particular looks forward to seeing Rutherford’s legacy continued through the work of his conference.

“Thanks to Dr. Rutherford, those who have participated in the conference, or who have been influenced by a participant, have a broader perspective on a population of children and youth whose needs transcend the resources of any single delivery system.”

Furthermore, Mathur hopes Rutherford is remembered for “his timely advice, unique ability to inspire, and responsibility toward students,” which she says were just a few of Rutherford’s “many gifts.”

The 35th Annual Teacher Educators for Children with Behavioral Disorders Conference will be held at the Tempe Mission Palms on October 27-29, 2011. The conference that Rutherford created continues under the guidance of an advisory board along with the coordination of Heather Griller Clark, principal research specialist with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“It is my hope that conference participants gain a broader understanding of youth with emotional and behavioral disorders by learning from others within the field,” said Clark. “The conference is an opportunity for those who work with this population to share, through research, the things they have learned.”

By Lauren Proper,

Jenni Thomas,
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College