UIC takes pride in the fact that researchers across campus are working to combat health and educational disparities in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus and across the nation. The UIC Monarch Center is focused on just that. The center, the only one of its kind, was established in 2003 to support teacher and related services preparation programs and increase the numbers and quality of their professional graduates.

“The overarching goal of the Monarch Center is to effect positive change in the lives of children with disabilities, particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds,” said Norma Lopez-Reyna, PhD, associate professor of special education and the center’s director.

The Monarch Center is a national technical assistance center, funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the Department of Education. “Our purpose,” said Dr. Lopez-Reyna, “is to provide support, services, and resources to higher-education faculty across the nation who are engaged in personnel preparation of special education teachers, school psychologists, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists toward serving children and youth with disabilities in school settings.”

The center provides direct technical assistance to faculty who train special educators at minority institutions of higher education (MIHEs) where the enrollment is at least 25 percent minority, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges serving Native Americans.

Statistics show there is an overrepresentation of minority students who are receiving special education services. Researchers theorize that this may be because some teachers are unable to distinguish cultural differences from disabilities and refer minority students to special education when it is not needed. “Furthermore,” said Dr. Lopez-Reyna, “as the proportion of our nation’s school populations continue to grow in cultural and linguistic diversity, it is imperative that all educators be prepared to serve children from diverse backgrounds and with a range of learning abilities and needs.”

“The mission of the Monarch Center is to ensure that all personnel programs are incorporating evidence-based practices,” said Dr. Lopez-Reyna, “and that they are preparing educators who can effectively serve children from diverse backgrounds through the use of culturally responsive practices.”

“We offer workshops, seminars, and individual consultation on topics including everything from how to write successful grant proposals for obtaining scholarship funding for students, to how to improve the content and quality of course work and field experiences for educators in training. Most important is that we also provide ‘follow-along’ support after they have attended a workshop or seminar,” she said. “We assign a mentor, a more experienced faculty member from another institution, who provides guidance based on their knowledge and experience.”

The Monarch Center’s coprincipal investigators are Mary Bay, PhD, associate professor emerita of special education, and Barbara Guillory, PhD, project coordinator in special education. All three work as a team to determine Monarch’s goals and to design and guide activities to reach these goals, monitor progress, and disseminate results.

Over the past eight years, the center has been effective, as evidenced by the doubled probability of grant funding by faculty members who receive their services compared to those who do not and by the detailed reports from faculty regarding the development of new programs and the redesigning of existing programs to better serve future educators.

Dr. Lopez-Reyna finds that UIC offers a “great intersection of excellent colleagues, a multitude of communities that we can work with, a diverse population of students from which to recruit, and strong supports for research.”