Shirley Dawson (2020)


Associate professor of special education Shirley Dawson was selected as this year's Hinckley Fellow. As a first-generation college graduate, she has devoted her life to teaching. Dawson began her career in the Jordan School District, where she worked for 22 years in a variety of positions, including teaching third, fourth and fifth grades, working with students with disabilities and those with severe autism. She also served as the gifted and talented coordinator for junior high students for the state of Utah. She eventually earned a Ph.D. in special education and transitioned to higher education.

Dawson joined the faculty of Weber State in 2013 where, through scholarship, leadership and instruction, she has shared her passion with future teachers. Dawson is the chair of Weber State's Teacher Assistant Pathway to Teaching (TAPT), which supports six nearby school districts in finding and educating quality teachers. She also directs Weber State's chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children.

In a nomination letter for the award, a student who has worked with Dawson in both capacities and has also conducted and presented research with Dawson wrote, "I count Dr. Dawson as a mentor and someone I can trust. She helped change my life and the way I look at education. She has seen things I am capabe of but have overlooked and has pushed me in directions I never knew I could go."

At the core of her work, Dawson focuses on changing individual lives through education. For example, as the WSU and Ogden City School District Adult Transition Program chair, Dawson has supported the effort to bring seven students with congnitive disabilities to WSU for a successful transition to academic life. 

Dawson has also researched and written widely. In 2018, hers was one of only two projects awarded funding by the National Center for Special Education Research Institution of Education Sciences. She has presented at more than 60 international, national, state and local conferences and has been awarded over $500,000 to fund research and community service projects from sources outside the university.

Most recently, she co-published a four-part series for prectitioners regarding special education and career technical exploration in the online journal of the Association for Career & Technical Education. 

"I am honored to be recognized by my peers for the Hinckley Fellow Award. I define myself as a teacher, and I believe our jobs are about making a difference," Dawson said. "The legacy of John S. Hinckley and the essence of what we are doing, is to make a difference every day." 

ntial citizen of the campus and the community," wrote Gene Sessions, WSU history professor and 1991 Hinckley Fellow, in a letter of recommendation.