Online Degrees Blog KU SPED director spotlight: Meet Dr. Brassuer-Hock

KU SPED director spotlight: Meet Dr. Brassuer-Hock

07 December
Meet the program director Irma Brasseur-Hock

Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock stands at the forefront of special education, blending nearly two decades of classroom teaching with groundbreaking research on adolescent literacy and instructional interventions.

As the academic program associate for KU's online high incidence dis/abilities teacher education program, Dr. Brasseur-Hock has not only gained recognition for her groundbreaking work on multiple IES grants but is also esteemed for her expertise in adolescent literacy and school change. Her contributions to reputable journals like Learning Disability Quarterly and the Journal of Learning Disabilities further emphasize her substantial impact in the field.

Titles and accolades aside, Dr. Brasseur-Hock is a passionate teaching professor, academic researcher, and proud Jayhawk whose work is a deep-rooted commitment to special education. Equipped with firsthand teaching experience and research acumen, she seamlessly bridges theoretical knowledge with practical application.

In a recent interview, Dr. Brasseur-Hock discusses her educational history, joining the Jayhawks, her groundbreaking research into literacy for students with dis/abilities, and more. To watch this exclusive interview and hear about Dr. Brasseur-Hock, in her own words, click here.

Read on to learn all about KU’s incoming Special Education Department Program Director, Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock, and why she believes the KU online SPED program lives up to its No.1 ranking in the nation.

Bridging theory and practice: Dr. Brasseur-Hock’s inspirational path

Dr. Brasseur-Hock's career foundation is built on her time in middle and high school classrooms, where she served as a special education teacher in the state of Michigan. For nearly 20 years, she has actively supported students with high incidence dis/abilities, including those with emotional and behavioral disorders, autism, and ADHD.

Aiming to make a broader impact beyond her Michigan classrooms, Dr. Brasseur-Hock pursued advanced studies at the University of Kansas.

Here, she completed her Ph.D. in 2005 and later joined the KU Department of Special Education as a teaching professor. Simultaneously, her research initiatives at the Center for Research on Learning have been ongoing for an impressive 17 years.

Dr. Brasseur-Hock's research scope is both diverse and significant. Her focus on adolescent literacy, in particular, is noteworthy, given its critical importance. Throughout her career, she has been associated with several research projects supported by IES grants, touching on areas from reading interventions to teacher quality evaluations.

Additionally, her scholarly contributions to leading journals are a testament to her dedication and expertise that have blossomed as a KU Jayhawk, researcher, and educator.

Becoming a Jayhawk

If you're wondering why students have selected the University of Kansas for their graduate studies in teaching, Dr. Brasseur-Hock’s decision to join KU helps provide those answers.

Nearly 20 years ago, while still teaching in Michigan classrooms, Dr. Brasseur-Hock came across an opportunity that would shape her professional trajectory: she was invited to attend a summer professional development program on learning strategies and content enhancement at the University of Kansas.

Thrilled by the program offerings and camaraderie, she attended repeat summer sessions. Today, she recalls those sessions fondly. To her, each trip to KU seemed less like a visit and more like returning home.

It's this familiarity she experienced, combined with the tangible results she observed in her students after implementing the strategies learned at KU, that sowed the understanding that real change in real classrooms for real students was possible—with the right advanced educational experience.

Her increasing ambition to significantly influence the field of special education drew her back to the University of Kansas, which boasted the nation's top-ranked special education program at the time. Upon gaining admission to KU's prestigious Ph.D. program, Dr. Brasseur-Hock solidified her commitment to the university as a Ph.D. student.

In 2023, KU still ranks as the nation’s best special education program according to U.S. News & World Report, and Dr. Brasseur-Hock is still a proud University of Kansas Jayhawk.1

Embracing the Jayhawk spirit

Dr. Brasseur-Hock’s genuine love and attachment for KU are evident.

She passionately believes the essence of the KU community that first drew her to those summer sessions and her doctoral degree remains intact, even as the School of Education and Human Sciences (SOEHS) has successfully advanced into the pioneering realm of online programming.

"Becoming a Jayhawk was like a dream come true," Dr. Brasseur-Hock exclaims. It wasn't just about transitioning from Michigan to Kansas, but about immersing herself in a community that felt “like home.” Her Jayhawk spirit doesn't end with her; it's a beacon for her students, too. To Dr. Brasseur-Hock, in a world where the term 'community' is often used loosely, the University of Kansas stands as a testament to what true community spirit means." Being here at KU, feeling what it's like to be part of this community is incredible," she affirms. “The most meaningful aspect of the special education programs has been the ability to develop relationships with our teachers and watch them grow and thrive,” Dr. Brasseur-Hock shares.

Recent events bolster her sentiment. Though the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges, she says it’s also turned educators and students into “partners in learning” at the university. For Dr. Brasseur-Hock, this time of crisis and disruption turned into an opportunity to co-evolve and deepen mutual understanding.

Staying updated: How Dr. Brasseur-Hock continues learning

In an ever-evolving field like special education, Dr. Brasseur-Hock understands it's crucial for professionals to remain informed, including herself. She employs a multifaceted approach to ensure she's always at the forefront of her field.

Some of her activities include:

  • Professional organizations: Dr. Brasseur-Hock actively engages with several national and local organizations, including the Council for Exceptional Children and the Division for Learning Disabilities. These affiliations not only connect her to local and national needs but also to the latest research presented at conferences.
  • Dedicated reading: As an avid reader, she is constantly updating herself through top-tier journals, especially in her area of interest, adolescent literacy. Moreover, her keen interest in teacher preparation keeps her exploring the optimal ways to engage adult learners in online platforms, ensuring high-quality instruction.
  • Collaboration with colleagues: One of her invaluable resources is the community at the University of Kansas. Regular interactions with tenured faculty and other teaching professors in her domain keep her informed.

For Dr. Brasseur-Hock, staying up-to-date isn't just a professional requirement—it's a commitment to offering the best to her students: Being a professor is about mentoring, evolving, and ensuring that the latest research directly benefits students.

Having spent 20 years teaching at the middle and high school levels, Dr. Brasseur-Hock has personally faced the challenge of helping adolescents become proficient readers. Her classroom experiences have become the backbone of her research, she notes, “It became the motivation that led me down this path to do what I could to change that.”

Surrounded by groundbreaking research in special education at KU, she emphasizes the importance of translating these findings into practice. “I am collaborating with outstanding colleagues doing the most up-to-date, nationally and internationally recognized research in the field of special education so we can ensure that we're getting that content, that knowledge, the strategies, and practices, into our courses and into the hands of teachers.”

Empowering the youth: Dr. Brasseur-Hock's literacy research endeavors

Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock remains steadfast in her mission to help readers succeed and during her tenure at the University of Kansas, Dr. Brasseur-Hock and her colleagues embarked on a groundbreaking study to truly understand the needs of adolescent non-proficient readers.

Of particular note is a research grant funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), where they examined multiple facets of reading, ranging from phonics and word decoding to vocabulary and comprehension. Their findings were enlightening. “What we found out was that 14% of those students had "global severe weaknesses in reading," which meant they were one to one standard deviation below the mean in reading, we also found about 37% of those students had global weaknesses in all areas of reading, 29% were dis-fluent readers, 11% of those students had weak language comprehension, and 9% were just weak in comprehension.”

This research dispelled a common misconception: that secondary students don't need word-level instruction. In fact, they do. As a result, Dr. Brasseur-Hock and her team designed a comprehensive reading program for adolescents that addresses all facets of reading.

Dream-driven literacy: The transformative role of dreams in literacy education

Dr. Brasseur-Hock's research goes beyond conventional reading skills and also focuses on the intrinsic motivation and re-engagement of adolescent readers. Given that many of these students have already experienced setbacks in their reading journey, helping them find their confidence and competence as readers extends beyond barebones instruction. Moreover, Dr. Brasseur-Hock's dedicated research initiatives have a singular goal: to cultivate readers who can positively impact society.

One of her recent studies, involving 820 students from a centrally-located state, yielded promising results. The findings showcased marked improvements in students' self-perception as readers and nearly two years of progress in reading skills.

“I look closely at motivation for reading, and also at re-engaging these students. One foundational element of the program is the motivation piece, where we encourage students to contemplate their possible selves. They reflect on their aspirations, connecting them to the importance of becoming a good reader,” she says. A standout component of her program, aptly entitled "Possible Selves for Readers," encourages students to map their future dreams and understand how proficient reading can be a catalyst in achieving them.

For Dr. Brasseur-Hock, the endgame is clear: “We really, truly want to see these students become readers who can contribute to our society, who can go on to higher education and really have successful lives.” Her dedication to the realm of adolescent literacy is not just academic; it's a passionate commitment to changing lives.

Key reasons to choose KU's online SPED program

For potential students seeking excellence and adaptability in an academic program, the University of Kansas's online special education (SPED) program stands out prominently. Dr. Brasseur-Hock proudly affirms it’s the "number one program in the country."1

She says KU’s leading program is not just about rankings; it's about designing education for real-world challenges. With many educators finding it hard to juggle work and further studies, KU’s online programs offer both academic excellence and a flexible design.

KU's online SPED program is a beacon for those fervent about special education. Its comprehensive academic framework, real-world integration, and unparalleled flexibility position it as the go-to destination for the educators of tomorrow.

"The unique feature of our online program is that the courses are asynchronous and you can set it up to meet your personal schedule and needs." The program also facilitates direct interaction with professors during "synchronous times," ensuring that students always have the guidance they need.

In a busy world, one of the most daunting challenges for prospective students is maintaining an equilibrium between work, life, and education. KU's online SPED program acknowledges this challenge and offers a solution. Echoing its adaptability, Dr. Brasseur-Hock mentions, "Our online program provides flexibility for working educators to attend class because they are offered asynchronously."

The online experience is further enhanced with tools like GoReact, which "allows you to videotape yourself teaching and receive feedback from the instructor."

Though the program is flexible, understanding the commitment is essential for online master’s students to complete their studies. Dr. Brasseur-Hock provides a clearer picture, noting that students might typically invest "anywhere from six to 10 hours a week on coursework, activities, and assignments." Occasionally, certain weeks may require more.

More than a degree: A transformational curriculum

For KU’s new program director, KU’s online M.S.E.* is more than a degree; it's a transformation.

The curriculum is designed with immediacy in mind. Lessons resonate with the challenges of today's classrooms, ensuring that learning today finds application tomorrow. Such direct applicability accentuates the program's inherent value.

Completing one of KU's online SPED programs marks a personal and professional evolution. As Dr. Brasseur-Hock emphasizes, "You will leave as a master teacher, with expertise that will potentially change the trajectory of your career and impact the outcomes of the students that you're working with. And you will see growth in yourself."

Furthermore, what differentiates KU's online SPED program from the rest is its dedication to merging academic knowledge with real-world applicability. Students at KU are privileged to engage with faculty who are both thought leaders and seasoned practitioners. This dynamic ensures that theoretical knowledge seamlessly integrates with practical insights.

The curriculum for the KU SPED program boasts a comprehensive design, guaranteeing a high level of quality and relevance for those interested in the special education field.

"Our curriculum design is based on national and state standards," Dr. Brasseur-Hock shares, offering a glimpse into the rigorous checks and balances the program undergoes. "We do that to meet the Higher Learning Commission's requirements for accreditation." This careful alignment ensures that students are not only meeting the standards but are also progressing optimally through the course.

She further explains, "We also look at the Council for Exceptional Children's standards to ensure that we are covering what is showing up as most critical for teachers, educators, and leaders to understand." Such meticulous planning ensures that graduates are equipped with the most relevant information and skills.

Additionally, the SPED program takes pride in its dynamic teaching approach. "We ensure that the faculty and the teaching professors work collaboratively," says Dr. Brasseur-Hock. This guarantees that the latest research findings and methodologies find their way into the curriculum.

As a result, students gain fresh insights and learnings that are actively shaping the field.

Envisioning tomorrow: The road ahead for KU’s SPED program

As KU steers into a changing future, its online special education programs remain committed to continuous innovation, regularly updating their curricula and structure. Embracing technological advancements and placing greater emphasis on clinical experiences is at the forefront of the KU School of Education and Human Sciences' larger mission—to stay ahead of the curve in changing times and give teachers the tools they need for today’s classrooms, even as day-to-day needs change.

"The future of our online SPED program looks bright," Dr. Brasseur-Hock shares, hinting at exciting developments. From collaborations with Jayhawkville—an innovative virtual education environment—to interactive clinical experiences, the SPED program is ready to tackle the ever-evolving challenges and opportunities in the sphere of education."We are a continuous improvement program," Dr. Brasseur-Hock points out.

Celebrating success: Alumni tales

A part of KU’s special education offerings, Dr. Brasseur-Hock the High Incidence Dis/abilities master’s program has witnessed numerous success stories, each one reinforcing the program's commitment to transforming students into leaders.

One graduate from Colorado overcame life's unexpected hurdles to complete the program and ascend to the position of Director of Special Education. His influence extended beyond his own achievements; he also inspired his colleagues to enroll in the KU online program. In doing so, he served as both a shining example of the program's effectiveness and a mentor for many others in the field.

During the pandemic, the resilience of students was also notably evident. A particular paraeducator's determination and adaptability became the embodiment of this spirit as she quickly adapted to online education. Dr. Brasseur-Hock recalls her impressive journey by saying, "She had to learn quickly how to move content online into an online platform and how to make instructional videos in a way that is engaging for students. When she completed the program, she was hired on not only to help with the special ed self-contained room but as the tech person in the building helping other educators."

This particular story of a KU paraeducator alum underscores the power of dedication and the right mentorship leading to significant advancement.

Seize your moment: A program director’s call to action

Dr. Brasseur-Hock and her colleagues are also highly focused on the needs and experiences of future students in the program.

For prospective students, her advice is succinct yet profound. She emphasizes the urgency of seizing the opportunity, "Don't wait to get involved." It's not merely about enrolling but about fully immersing oneself in the experience.

Joining the program means being ready for transformation and growth. It's about adopting a mindset where you are open to learning, ready to advocate, lead, and make meaningful changes to support students with dis/abilities.

If one were to encapsulate the ethos and promise of the program, these words from Dr. Brasseur-Hock come to mind: "It's a great opportunity for you to step into a program that can be flexible, in time with your schedule, that allows you access to experts in the field, and helps you to move on and reflect about your teaching, learning, and interactions with students with dis/abilities."

Elevate your impact with KU's No.1 online master’s in special education

Ready to master top-notch teaching methods for diverse learners and work with experts like Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock? Don’t hesitate to join the University of Kansas's premier online special education master's programs.

KU’s top-ranked online master’s-level programs1 empower you to profoundly impact student lives and advance your career.

KU provides online master's degrees, certificates, and endorsements in specialized education areas tailored to your passion, including:

Have questions? KU's admissions outreach advisors are eager to help. Contact an admissions outreach advisor now and begin shaping your special education journey.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

*The department offers an online Master of Science in Education degree in special education with three individual emphasis area options: autism spectrum disorder; high incidence disabilities; or secondary special education and transition.