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Landmark College Summer Institute Draws Educators and Professionals to Campus

by Madeline Bergstrom

One of the key elements of Landmark College’s pedagogical approach is to focus on students' academic assets, not only on their challenges. This philosophy took center stage at the 2014 Landmark College Summer Institute, titled “Cerebrodiversity: Teaching and Learning from Strengths.” Over 75 educators and professionals from around the country joined dozens of Landmark College faculty and staff members for four days of talks and workshops focused on building on the gifts of a diversity of learners. Dr. Peter Eden, Landmark College's president, stated, "This Summer Institute was the most successful one the College has ever run. From the number of attendees to the caliber of the presenters, participants, and content, it was a world-class educational event."

Summer Institute attendeeThe conference was coordinated by the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT). "This year marked the 24th anniversary of the Landmark College Summer Institute," said Dr. Manju Banerjee, vice president and director of LCIRT. "It's one of the many ways in which we disseminate the knowledge and insight we gain from working with our unique population of students."

This year, for the first time, the Summer Institute began with a one-day Pre-Institute. The day’s theme was online learning. Dr. Sam Johnston shared her expertise in applying the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in online environments. Johnston is a senior researcher with CAST, a globally recognized organization on UDL. "We were thrilled to include Dr. Johnston in the Pre-Institute," said Banerjee. "Her presentation was filled with practical information that participants could take home and use in their own schools and universities." 

Dr. Banerjee spoke during the Pre-Institute about creating accessible online classrooms from the perspective of Universal Design of Instruction (UDI), an approach developed at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Matthew H. Schneps talked about how the function of neurological attention networks influences the choice of design in online environments for students with learning differences. "Matt Schneps' thought-provoking research on the multiple dimensions of dylexia added greatly to the richness of the conference discussion and dialogue," said Banerjee.

On Tuesday evening, Thomas G. West delivered the keynote address. "I was so happy to see alumnus Ben West and his father, Tom West, back on campus," Eden said. "Tom's presentations were provocative, fun, enlightening, and loved by all. Ben was a frequent contributor from the audience and added the perspective that only a former Landmark College student can add when talking about the multi-factorial nature of LD, strengths, challenges, and the need to engineer better approaches to teaching and learning."

Summer Institute attendeesDr. Albert Galaburda, director of cognitive neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was the special guest speaker on Friday afternoon, sharing his cutting-edge work in the field of dyslexia. Banerjee noted, "I have followed Dr. Galaburda's work for many years, and I was fascinated by his talk on the newest developments in our understanding of the genetic basis of dyslexia."

Another highlight of the week was a student panel. Alicia Keating, Prerna Sikri, and Justyn Cyriaque spoke about what they have learned at Landmark College about themselves, their learning styles, and their strengths. Keating spoke first about the academic challenges she faced before arriving at Landmark. She noted, "Since I've been here, I've never failed a class. I'm in Phi Theta Kappa. Here I have the supports that I need in order to manage whatever I take on." Keating has spent two years at Landmark and will transfer to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in the fall to study bioengineering. 

Sikri has been at Landmark College for five semesters. She told the audience that at Landmark, she had received the first "A" grade of her life. "For the first time, I can sit down and accept myself," she said. "I know exactly what strategies to use. Landmark is number one in the universe for self-awareness."

After just one semester at the College, Cyriaque found that "Landmark just instilled so much confidence in me." He will return to Hampton University in the fall to study math. Cyrique said that Landmark College has "teachers and professors that really care. It really seemed like home to me."

Next year, Landmark College will mark the 25th anniversary of the Summer Institute, as well as the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). "As the College prepares to create more BA and BS programs, begin the construction of our new Science, Technology and Innovation Center facility, and welcome what could be the largest incoming fall class in the history of the institution," Eden said, "we recognize that 'educating the educators' is still very much still a major element in our overall mission."

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