March 13, 2024

The Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Special Education operated by NECC (MRC-NECC) recently celebrated a significant milestone in the lives of many of its staff as they graduated from Simmons University with their master’s degrees. On February 26, MRC-NECC held a ceremony honoring the 15 staff members who earned their Master of Science in Education (non-licensure program), the first international cohort to complete the program through NECC.

“This achievement marks a pivotal moment in the lives of these new graduates, signifying both their dedication to their profession and the bright future that lies ahead,” shared Chris Evans, MEd, professor of practice and the graduate program director for Simmons University at NECC.  “These 15 graduates will now have the opportunity to continue on as Simmons alumni and mentor Simmons students in other cohorts in the future.”

While the Simmons University partnership has been available to staff members at NECC’s headquarters in Southborough, MA, for more than 30 years, the program at MRC-NECC launched just two and a half years ago. 

Daniel Gould, PhD, BCBA-D. who was the executive director of MRC-NECC until his untimely passing in August 2021, was instrumental in conceptualizing a degree program they could offer their local teachers. Together with Pam Olsen, PhD, MSEd, BCBA, Simmons alumna and current Executive Director of MRC-NECC, and Evans, they spent a year working on developing the program. The first cohort began the program in Fall 2021.

“The idea is to educate these staff members and get them well-informed in autism and other special education areas, so that they can then disseminate that knowledge globally,” said Evans. “The program has grown exponentially. We now have five cohorts because of these 15 students, who have served as ambassadors for the Simmons program and NECC, spreading the word to their friends, family, and coworkers.”

According to Evans, one of the pillars of the Simmons UAE program was a focus on culturally responsive teaching and accommodations for learners with special needs. The program has quite an international reach; the graduates in this cohort, who worked both at MRC-NECC and at NECC Southborough, represent seven different countries—Lebanon, UAE, Philippines, U.S., Syria, Zimbabwe, and India—and one state (Palestine). The master’s degree program has also expanded beyond MRC-NECC, now encompassing staff at NECC’s clinics in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Though Dr. Gould never got to see his hard work come to fruition, his spirit lives on in the Dr. D. Daniel Gould Award for Global Excellence in Special Education Teaching. The award, which honors Dr. Gould’s legacy and commitment to NECC’s mission, was presented to Alya Al-Suwaidi at the graduation ceremony, a testament to her dedication and impact in the field of special education and applied behavior analysis (ABA).

“Simmons introduced me to so many different teaching techniques and emphasized the importance of culturally responsive teaching,” shared Al-Suwaidi. “This ultimately gave me the knowledge and skills I needed to have an inclusive classroom.”

Al-Suwaidi and her fellow graduates, as Simmons alumni, will not have an opportunity to serve as mentors for students in future cohorts of the program. “In addition to a Simmons supervisor, students are also provided a mentor to guide them in their teacher practice,” explained Evans.

The second cohort, which has 26 students, will graduate in December.