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New Dean Spotlight

August 14, 2018

Nancy Marchand-Martella, Suzi and Dale Gallagher Dean of Education

After graduating from Purdue in 1985 with a degree in psychology, Marchand-Martella headed to Southern Illinois University to pursue a master’s degree in behavior analysis and therapy. She earned her Ph.D. in special education from Utah State University in 1991.

Then it was on to faculty stints at Gonzaga University, Drake University, the University of Montana, Eastern Washington University, and University of Oklahoma as chair of the Department of Educational Psychology. In addition to teaching, Marchand-Martella has pursued her research in the broad area of effective instructional strategies and programs for pre-K through grade 12 students, specifically those who struggle in school. Her most recent work centers on an approach gaining national recognition called multi-tier system of supports, or MTSS.

Professional Focus

MTSS focuses on meeting students at the level they are and finding more strategic and intensive types of intervention to help them both academically and behaviorally.

“We try to be much more proactive, and when students are struggling we offer help sooner to prevent them from perhaps entering the special education pipeline,” she says. “The way the old wait-to-fail model worked, students often received services only after receiving a special education label. The new approach now is much more geared to what we can do in general education to make a difference in the lives of students.”

“You don’t have to label a child to do what’s best for that child,” she says. “If you go down the road of special education, you want to truly ensure that they have a disability where they need specially designed instruction. If teachers utilize effective instructional practices and programs in general education, they are more confident about pursuing special education services.”

Along with professional presentations on the topic, she also provides teacher training for states and school districts on effective instructional strategies and programs, which utilize a two-pronged approach of examining both instruction and behavior management.

“When students struggle, it might not be a student issue. It just might be a curricular or instructional issue. It’s important not to immediately blame the student. We have to examine what we actually do with our students.”

In short, Marchand-Martella knows the power not just of instructional strategies, but also of the teachers who provide that instruction. A Purdue professor changed her planned career trajectory when she was an undergraduate student on the road to medical school.

“I was in biology and then I took a course from (the late) David Santogrossi, and I fell in love with psychology,” Marchand-Martella notes. “I took a course from a dynamic, creative professor who loved his work, and it changed my life. I recognized my own interest in the field, switched majors and haven’t looked back.”

“As I drove to campus, I was thinking about all the opportunities I had here, and they came from pretty fabulous faculty…” she says. “I just feel lucky and pretty humble about it all. I was a first-generation college graduate, so I feel very fortunate.”

Personal Journey

Marchand-Martella is the oldest of five children, and grew up helping her parents raise and tend to horses and other animals on their mini-farm near Thorntown. After graduating from Western Boone High School, she began her freshman year at Purdue while still living at home so she could continue to help her parents on the farm.

As a youth, she showed horses in 4-H and spent many of her days riding down the rural roads near Thorntown where her parents still live. Growing up, her family would take their ponies to the annual Festival of the Turning Leaves to sell rides to children attending the festival.

“We would charge a quarter or 50 cents for the pony rides, and that’s how we paid for the hay,” she says. “We needed to help support all of the ponies, horses and various animals that we had. We also sold firewood or vegetables from our garden so we could help pay for the hay.

The love of horses that Marchand-Martella developed on the family farm has remained a constant in her life and her horses accompanied her to Indiana. She plans to go riding “as soon as I can find where my saddle is among the myriad of moving boxes.”

She met her husband Ron while they were both graduate students at Southern Illinois University. What started as two earnest students hitting the books led to something more.

“We were studying together, and one thing led to another and we started to date,” she says. “And he gave me a card. In the card, he wrote that he found me very ‘reinforcing’ – and I knew I was going to marry him. I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard from one behavior analyst to another.

After graduation, they married and lived as house parents in a group home where they worked with six children with autism and behavior problems. “It was an amazing experience,” she says. “And after that we went on to get our Ph.D.s because we wanted to work with students who struggled and help those who may not have been given a chance in life.”

The ultimate responsibility for providing opportunity starts with colleges of education. We have a tremendous responsibility to be able to prepare educators who are going to go out and make a difference in the lives of children.

-Nancy Marchand-Martella

That’s what it’s all about for Marchand-Martella. Opportunity. The opportunity to learn, the opportunity to teach and the opportunity to have an impact. All of that, ultimately, leads back to colleges of education.

“We need to pay it forward. That’s the way I view all of this,” she says. “To me the ultimate responsibility for providing opportunity starts with colleges of education. We have a tremendous responsibility to be able to prepare educators who are going to go out and make a difference in the lives of children. We need to change lives, one student at a time.”

“I am proud to be chosen as dean of Purdue’s College of Education. I am ready to ensure that people know about how wonderful the college is: there are tremendous faculty here who secure state and federal research grant funding, publish meaningful articles in high-level journals, write groundbreaking books, and provide invaluable outreach to schools. I also need to ensure that we are holding up our end of the bargain to prepare professionals who have the skills to go out and face the challenge of educating generations of learners.

Marchand-Martella continues with a smile, “If you think about it, our college is the foundation for the many colleges on campus: We prepare teachers, they go out and teach students, and those students ultimately will end up here. None of them would have students if it weren’t for us.”

Much like a good trail ride on a favorite horse, Marchand-Martella’s career is a combination of the planned and the unplanned – but that mix is what makes the ride worthwhile.

“I’m pretty humbled by it all, I’ll be honest,” she says. “I was just standing here and looking out the window at campus, going, ‘Wow!’ I went all the way to Washington State and then Oklahoma, and then back here. But things happen in life, and you go down roads you didn’t necessarily have planned. It makes you who you are, so I wouldn’t trade those experiences.”

Filed Under: News