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Tennessee educator named dean of education college

Jan. 26, 2010

KALAMAZOO--A Tennessee educator with a lengthy track record in research, teaching and statewide project leadership has been named dean of Western Michigan University's College of Education and Human Development.

Dr. John J. Wheeler, associate dean and director of doctoral studies at Tennessee Technological University, will take the reins of WMU's oldest college July 1, pending approval by the WMU Board of Trustees. He will replace Dr. Gary Wegenke, who is retiring.

In addition to his position as associate dean at Tennessee Tech, which he has held since 2002, Wheeler has served for 16 years as principal investigator and project director of Tennessee's Make a Difference Project. That state-funded effort offers behavioral consultations, behavioral assessment, behavioral interventions and training resources to schools in 23 rural and underserved Tennessee counties.

"We are delighted to be able to welcome Dr. Wheeler to WMU," says Dr. Timothy Greene, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "He brings strong leaderships skills and a commitment to the importance of blending both superb teaching and strong research in a way that benefits both our students and the community."

Wheeler has been a Tennessee Tech professor of special education since 1994. Prior to taking that position, he was associate professor of special education and director of interdisciplinary training at the South Dakota Center for Disabilities in the Department of Pediatrics of the University of South Dakota's School of Medicine. While in South Dakota, he served as a founding member of the South Dakota Autism Project for five years, delivering clinical and field-based supports to children with autism and other developmental disabilities, families and educators throughout the state.

Wheeler began his career as a teacher of students with severe disabilities in his home state of Illinois. His background includes experience there as a K-12 special education teacher and a high school football assistant coach. He earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Southern Illinois University in 1985, 1986 and 1989, respectively.

Wheeler says his Illinois connections and his career focus on such topics as autism spectrum disorders and behavioral supports across the lifespan have made him familiar with and a strong proponent of WMU's distinct strengths.

"I've known of Western Michigan University for years, and have been indirectly tied to WMU for some time. This just seems like the right place," says Wheeler of his new university, pointing to WMU's reputation in special education and other fields like behavioral psychology.

"I'm first and foremost a teacher and, from that, a researcher and someone who has spent time and effort building community partnerships," he says. "While I've never coveted the role of dean, this opportunity made me think about how the experiences and skills I have could be put to good use here. The college has a strong focus on educational and human development issues across the lifespan, and that is very appealing to me."

During his years at Tennessee Tech, Wheeler was honored repeatedly for outstanding teaching and research, receiving campuswide awards for both as well as winning the TTU Mortar Board Society Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Teaching and a nod as "Professor of the Year" from the school's Panhellenic Council.

Wheeler is the author numerous research articles and book chapters and book reviews in the areas of positive behavior supports and autism. He serves on numerous editorial boards, including Exceptional Children, the Journal of International Special Education Needs, and Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. In addition, he is the co-author of three textbooks, including "Behavior Management: Principles and Practices of Positive Behavior Supports," the second edition of which was published in 2009.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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