Betty Ashbaker Leaves Legacy of Citizenship and Service

Betty Ashbaker at the 2015 BYU Faculty Women’s Association Award Night. Photo courtesy of Melissa Heath

A misunderstanding over communications disorders and special education launched a lifetime career for Betty Ashbaker, a professor in the Counseling Psychology and Special Education Department. Ashbaker will retire from the McKay School this month after 43 years as a special educator, 17 of those years having been at BYU.

When Ashbaker was deciding on a college major, her mother suggested she take a class in what she called “special education.” Her mother meant a class in communication disorders, but Ashbaker took her recommendation and enrolled in a special education class. “I loved it,” Ashbaker said. “Then I took more classes in special education, and [my mom] said that wasn’t what she meant.”

But Ashbaker had found what she wanted for her degree and her life’s work. “I always cared about the underprivileged and those who needed a little more attention and a little more help,” Ashbaker said. “I just kind of was led to it.”

Training for Paraeducators

Perhaps the most visible of Ashbaker’s contributions to special education has been her work with paraeducators—in local, state, national, and international areas. She has published numerous books and articles, ranging from classroom resources for paraeducators to legal aspects and ramifications of paraeducators’ work. Her influence includes worldwide visits and presentations.

In 2014 Ashbaker launched an international website in collaboration with Jill Morgan, director of the Foundation Degree in Learning Support at the University of Wales St. David, and Elizabeth Tatum, a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia, who is a former paraeducator. This website provides career information and training materials for paraeducators, especially those who help students with disabilities.

Redesign of Special Education Master’s Program

For the last three years Ashbaker has served as graduate coordinator of the special education master’s program. During this time the program has undergone a major redesign. Changes included admitting students every year rather than every other year and updating the curriculum to address recognized best practices in current education systems such as using a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS).

The program redesign included extensive research concerning the needs of current students, graduate students, and the department. To obtain approval for the program, Ashbaker worked with the department, the dean’s office, the graduate studies office, and the academic vice president.

Ashbaker’s work with this program has been recognized by faculty and students. She received the 2015 Citizenship Award from the BYU Faculty Women’s Association, as well as recognition by students in her department.

This year the graduate students in the Master’s of Special Education program created a new award, the Special Education Graduate Award for Outstanding Professor. They surprised Ashbaker by choosing her as the first recipient. “That was the greatest award I’ve ever received,” Ashbaker said. “We have such amazing students here, and the graduate students are the best of the best. It’s been incredible to work with the students—it’s been the highlight of my career.”

Plans for Retirement

Even though Ashbaker is retiring from her position at BYU, she does not plan to stop making contributions to the field she loves. “I’m retiring, not dying,” she declared.

Ashbaker will continue to contribute to paraeducator training. She is a past president of a paraeducator interest group through the Council for Exceptional Children, as well as being a member of the National Leadership Committee for Paraeducators and a member of the Utah Paraeducator Committee.

Ashbaker also looks forward to spending time with her 14-month-old grandson and doing family history work. “I love to do research and I’ll just shift it,” Ashbaker said. “I will do research for families, and I’m excited to help with that.”

Writer: Lindsey Williams

Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922