Alumnus of the Month – Terrance M. Scott

Dr. Scott is a professor and Distinguished University Scholar at the University of Louisville. He received his PhD in special education (with an emphasis on emotion and behavior) from the University of Oregon in 1994. With an undergraduate degree in psychology he began his career as a counselor in a residential treatment center for adjudicated adolescent boys. After receiving his master’s degree and teaching certificate in special education from Portland State University he taught in self-contained classrooms and directed public school programs for students with emotional and behavioral disorders in the state of Oregon.

He has been on faculty at the Universities of Kentucky, Florida, and Oregon before moving to Louisville in 2007 where he is chair of the department of special education. He has over 75 published books, articles, chapters, monographs, and training media on a variety of issues in the areas of behavioral disorders and behavioral support systems and has conducted over 600 presentations and training activities throughout the U.S., Canada, Ireland, and Australia. Dr. Scott has successfully competed for more than $5.25 million in research grant funding and, in 2004, received the Distinguished Early Career Award from the Research Division of the International Council for Exceptional Children.

His main research interests are related to students with challenging behavior, with a special focus on school-wide prevention, effective instruction, functional behavior assessment, and effective classroom and behavior management.


What prompted your decision to pursue a graduate degree?

I had been working with adjudicated youth in a residential facility when I decided that I wanted to be more involved in the educational aspects of these students’ lives. At that time PSU had received a grant to support training of people to become special education teachers – with an emphasis in behavioral disorders. I quit my job to enroll full time in this program and the opportunities afforded me there allowed me to receive my teaching certificate and begin working as a teacher. Exposure to the graduate program at PSU piqued my interests in research and I knew as I finished that I would eventually continue on to a doctoral degree.

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?

I did not enter the masters program in special education with any background in education. Faculty in the GSE were very helpful in providing me with not just the strategies and techniques necessary to be an effective teacher but also the insights and practicum experiences that helped me to successfully navigate my first teaching jobs.

What accomplishment in your career are you most proud of?

I have been in higher education for just 14 years. As I look back on my career I am very proud of the research and training relationships that I have had with schools across the U.S. and Canada. In my view, the work of which I am most proud is the work that led directly to positive changes in schools. While I would like to think that my work has had a more generalized impact on practice related to students with emotional and behavioral disorders, I am most reinforced by the changes that I have seen first hand as part of a collaborative effort with teachers, administrators, and students.

The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni. What does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?

I see community, in the largest sense, as including all those who interact or share a common investment in some set of potential outcomes. From an educator’s perspective, we impact the community when we teach, train, advocate, or otherwise influence policy or practice in a way that changes the probability of success with those outcomes. When the things that we as educators do change the way that schools do business, teachers teach, or students engage, we have an enormous impact on the community. The school climate affects teachers who in turn affect students who in turn spread that success into the larger community – perpetuating a circle of success.

How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?

While products such as publications, grants, and invited presentations are the hallmark of success in higher education, I am not persuaded that these activities have direct effect on the community. Rather, I see these activities as by-products of successful interaction with the community. All of my research is done in schools, within the context of typical classroom and instructional settings. I very much believe that meaningful change happens at the smaller community level and trickles up toward policy. Therefore, I like to think of my work as part of collaborative mission to demonstrate and build upon success.

What advice would you give currently enrolled or recently graduated students?

With every visit to a school I try to remind myself that I have a responsibility to make a positive difference. It will not always be easy and when the people you are working with seem not to care there is a huge incentive to give up. I constantly ask myself, “if I were told I could have a million dollars if this were more successful tomorrow what else would I do?” Those who impact the community for the positive are those who believe that they are always capable of making a difference. I believe this holds true for the challenges faced by all who work in or with schools.

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