Rider honors late special education professor with award dedication

The Michele Kamens Council for Exceptional Children Leadership Award recognizes leaders in special education
Keith Fernbach

The Rider community recently joined together to celebrate the life of Dr. Michele Kamens and dedicate an award in her honor — The Michele Kamens Council for Exceptional Children Leadership Award. The award memorializes her commitment to the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the national professional association of educators dedicated to advancing the success of children with exceptionalities.

The award was presented to David Eggert '18 at the ceremony on Oct. 22. The award is designated for an individual who served on the Council for Exceptional Children and has shown leadership and dedication in supporting and serving individuals with disabilities and their families. “Michele was an outstanding teacher, mentor and friend to her students,” says Dr. Sharon Sherman, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, who along with her husband, Alan, also funded a scholarship that was presented with the award. “The impact she had on Rider can still be felt everywhere, from the overwhelming popularity of our study abroad program to the fact that 40% of our education majors receive the special education endorsement. Her memory endures through the lives that are being touched every day thanks to the work of our Rider CEC chapter.”

Kamens, who was a part of the Rider family for more than 20 years, died last December following a lengthy illness. During her time at Rider, she left a lasting impact as a vocal advocate for the inclusion of special education students in the general education classroom.

Among her many contributions, she launched the school’s special education program in 1998 and later co-founded a study abroad program for education majors. Kamens also developed the undergraduate special education minor and the Master of Arts in Special Education. For her outstanding contributions, she was awarded Rider’s prestigious Frank N. Elliott Award for Distinguished Service in 2011.

A powerful advocate for individuals with disabilities, Kamens worked tirelessly to advance the CEC’s mission. She actively participated in the national CEC Teacher Education Division, serving as both a member and a board representative, and in 1998, she founded the Rider CEC chapter.

As a leader of the National Council for Exceptional Children organization, Kamens focused her research on inclusive education and co-teaching. She presented her research annually at CEC conferences and received a national recognition award for special education. One of her articles was recognized as the most influential articles of the year in the CEC journal, Teacher Education Special Education, which is regarded as the leading journal in the special education preparation field.

Eggert, who graduated from Rider with degrees in elementary education and psychology and a minor in special education, is now a special education teacher in the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District.

“When we discussed who was deserving of this award, David’s nomination was immediate and unanimous,” says Dr. Diane Casale-Giannola, a professor in Rider’s special education program, when she introduced Eggert at the ceremony. “David had a special bond with Dr. Kamens. They shared a passion and love for individuals with special needs. I am sure she is looking down so proudly this evening.”

Eggert’s relationship with Kamens predates his time as a Rider undergrad. “I first met her when I was a prospective student at an Admitted Students Day,” he says. “Dr. Kamens later became my faculty adviser. She was always so warm and welcoming each time I went to see her, whether it was at an event on campus, advising for course selection or even to just say hello.”

It was through Kamens that Eggert became involved with the CEC, where he served on the executive board for two years, first as the event chair and then as vice president. He also had the opportunity to study abroad with Kamens in England and Ireland in 2016, which he describes as “the experience of a lifetime.”

Eggert says the lessons he learned from Kamens stay with him to this day.

“Seeing her interact with students in a special education setting, it was obvious she was a natural,” he says. “She would refer to the students as ‘exceptional children,’ which taught me about how far compassion and a smile can truly take you in the classroom. I try to instill this in my students each day. I have a bulletin board that says, ‘Be the reason someone smiles today!’ I definitely would not be the teacher I am today without her.”