New Faculty Spotlight: Jenna Weglarz-Ward, Ph.D.

Jenna Weglarz-Ward, Ph.D. joined the College of Education faculty in the fall semester of 2016 as an Assistant Professor teaching in Early Childhood Education/Early Childhood Special Education. She specializes in the inclusion of children with children with disabilities in community settings, family engagement, and professional collaboration. Dr. Weglarz-Ward received both her Master’s Degree in Special Education in 2003 and her doctorate in Special Education in 2016 from the University of Illinois.

“Life as a new faculty member at UNLV has been a really nice blend of support in her teaching and research from members of the university community,” she said.

As for the students, Weglarz-Ward noted the “different, daring and diverse” culture here at UNLV saying, “the students here are amazing and so diverse. They come from rich backgrounds, which is something I was not used to in Illinois. Here students are 21 to 60 and are teaching and working in education in different ways. There are so many people coming back after changing careers or wanting to do something different or wanting to improve what they are already doing. All the students are motivated, because they are all here for a different reason.”

In addition to her research and teaching roles within the Educational and Clinical Studies department at the College, Dr. Weglarz-Ward was named a Dean’s Policy Fellow ahead of the upcoming Nevada legislative session. She, along with several colleagues, has drafted two policy papers regarding early childhood education topics in which lawmakers may consider enacting new policies in our state. These papers, and eight others from faculty and students across the College, will be available later this month.

For additional information about Dr. Weglarz-Ward and her research, visit her bio page on the COE website.

Working with Incarcerated Youth

Mathew Love, a third year doctoral student in the Department of Educational and Clinical Studies, landed a position as summer research intern with the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), in partnership with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. CAST is one of the largest special education non-profit organizations and research centers in the field of special education technology. Love was a part of Project RAISE: Reclaiming Access to Inquiry-Based Science Education for Incarcerated Students. The internship was a 6-week program, working with youth in the juvenile justice system and developing the materials to work with them. The goal of the project is for students to develop the necessary science knowledge and skills that are pivotal in the 21st century for science-related employment purposes.

Love has a long history with the Special Education program at UNLV. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in students with disabilities and emotional behavioral disorders. As a doctoral student, he currently serves as the graduate research assistant for the FOCUS project, and is also a Project CULTURED scholar.

Love sees the CAST internship opportunity as beneficial to himself as well as the program: “This is a really big deal for the department and the program because CAST is one of the biggest disseminators of products in special education. A lot of their theories and ideas have been written into law.” As he returns for the fall semester, Love hopes to take the knowledge he gains from this internship experience and conduct a few pilot studies on creating educational materials accessible to a wide range of students.

What Works in Autism Treatment

Dr. Kathleen S. O’Hara (’15), a graduate from UNLV’s College of Education is leading the way in research-based interventions in autism. Locally, Kathleen works to provide support and service to families as a Case Manager within the Early Childhood Department in the Clark County School District (CCSD). Within these capacities, Kathleen strives to commit to excellence in service in education.

O’Hara’s dissertation, “A comparison of PIPRT to VMO to increase social play skills in children with autism” was recently selected for review by the What Works Clearinghouse of The Institute of Education Sciences due to its exemplary research demonstration of an effective intervention for students with autism.

Dr. O’Hara cites that this latest development indicates that her work has meaning and motivates her to continue work in this area.

O’Hara completed a master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in autism in 2006, as well as a doctorate in Early Childhood Special Education in 2015.

For additional informational about What Works Clearinghouse of The Institute of Education Sciences, visit

Success through Science Notebooks

A tool for enhancing academic language fluency for English Language Learners.

Dr. Margarita Huerta, Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational and Clinical Studies, has recently published studies exploring the relationship between language development and science notebook scores of English language learners (ELLs) and economically disadvantaged students. Collectively, findings show promise for interventions that may foster both language and science competency- and at a faster rate- for these students.

Existing research shows that ELLs take approximately seven years to develop the fluency they need to be successful in the classroom; this lag is clearly evidenced by significantly lower scores in science and literacy domains. In two recent studies, Dr. Huerta explored the use of science notebooks as a tool to help students construct scientific understanding. According to Huerta and colleagues, the use of science notebooks is being increasingly used to serve as a laboratory notebook in which students can record questions, procedures, reflections, and conclusions related to scientific inquiry. The notebooks both offer information to educators about conceptual understandings of science and academic language fluency.

In one quantitative studya, Huerta measured the students’ academic language and conceptual understanding; she and colleagues collected 30 science notebooks from participants to investigate the relationship between students’ language and science concept scores. Findings indicated significant, positive relationships across three scientific domains – implicating that students’ academic language proficiency may parallel their ability to develop and implement science understanding.

In another quantitative studyb, Huerta computed students’ science notebook language and concept scores. Specifically, language growth was compared over time for language status (ELLs, formerly ELLs, and English-speaking) and gender. Findings suggest that students demonstrated statistically significant growth over time in their academic language as reflected by science notebook scores. In addition, Huerta and her colleagues noticed conceptual trends in which scores for ELLs, former ELLs, and male students lagged behind at first, but then caught up to their peers by the end of the school year.

Huerta’s research supports that the use of science notebooks may be a useful took for fostering both students’ academic language and content-area understanding.

Visit Dr. Margarita Huerta’s faculty page to learn more about her work.

aHuerta, M., Irby, B. J., Lara-Alecio, R., & Tong, F. (2015). Relationship between language and concept science notebook scores of English language learners and/or economically disadvantaged students.

bHuerta, M., Tong, F., Irby, B. J., & Lara-Alecio, R. (in press). Measuring and comparing academic language development and conceptual understanding via science notebooks. Journal of Educational Research.