Alumni News

Dean Richey (Ph.D. ’75) wins Caplenor Research Award

Professor's research on behalf of young children with disabilities changes lives

Hundreds of young children with disabilities and their families regularly experience empowerment and support because for 30 years, Dean Richey has never forgotten their individual needs while conducting his academic research.

Richey, professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, has been named the 2005 Donald Caplenor Faculty Research Award winner for his body of work in research and program development.

"He exemplifies the best in a researcher working at an institution that has a broad mandate for educating its students," says R.A. McWilliam, director and division chief for Vanderbilt's Center for Child Development. “He is the sort of person students can look up to, colleagues can collaborate with and families of children with disabilities can trust.”

Over a 27-year period, Richey has secured approximately $12 million in external funding and established the Upper Cumberland District Office of Tennessee's Early Intervention System, which provides free services to families with children from birth to 3 who have special needs or developmental delays. He has served as TEIS’ principal investigator for 18 years.

Colleagues and students say Richey’s greatest strengths lie in his ability to foster collaborative opportunities and to always remind them that researchers must remain considerate of their subjects, the real people being affected.

"Dr. Richey always kept the welfare of families who have young children with disabilities and often many stressors in their lives, and already overworked early intervention professionals, as his primary concern, rather than our research needs and egos," says Dolly Gerregano, an assistant professor at the University of Chattanooga who conducted her doctoral work under Richey.

One example of a program that demonstrates Richey’s strong suits is the Early Intervention and Mechanical Engineering program. EIME, now funded in its seventh year by Tennessee's Department of Education, has grown from a more informal collaboration started several years ago between Richey and the College of Education and Professor Stephen Canfield and the Mechanical Engineering Department.

Through TEIS, children in need of toys or helpful devices to fit their disabilities are identified. A Mechanical Engineering senior design class chooses projects based on their interests or sometime just a child’s compelling story.

The results have been amazing. A 2-year-old who is legally blind now has lighted building blocks to help her develop. A 3-year-old diagnosed with autism calms himself on a specially engineered tire swing. Pre-schoolers with disabilities can play T-ball with their friends thanks to a special batting device. About 150 projects have been completed for children through this program.

For more than three years, Richey and colleagues at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville have received funding from the Tennessee Department of Education to implement the Pathways for Family Empowerment program. He is the principal investigator for the research project that focuses on examining how families experience the planning and implementation of early intervention services and the extent to which services, supports and programs are family-centered and empowering for families.

Richey, also the principal investigator for the TTU component of the Upper Cumberland Healthy Start program for more than 10 years, is known for cutting across disciplines and settings to take services where they are needed, such as families’ homes and child care facilities. He involves undergraduate and graduate students in his research and has influenced his field through mentoring doctoral students and sharing his knowledge through co-authoring two textbooks, publishing extensively in nationally refereed journals, and presenting at international, national and regional conferences.

"His work in the area of research and program development is noteworthy, earning him both a national reputation and more importantly the profound respect of his colleagues throughout the field," says John Wheeler, associate dean of the College of Education.

Richey earned a doctorate in education in 1975 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in special education, including early intervention and early childhood education. He received a master's degree in 1966 from Vanderbilt University's George Peabody College and a bachelor's degree in 1965 from the University of North Texas.

He joined TTU in 1974 and served as interim associate dean of the College of Education from 1994 to 1996 before taking on the role full-time until 1999. He also served as interim dean from 1999 to 2000.

The Caplenor Award, first presented in 1984, is the university's premier research award and is named in honor of Donald Caplenor, former associate vice president for research and dean of instructional development who died in 1979. Richey will receive the award during spring 2006 commencement ceremonies.