Dr. Dava O'Connor began her career in education as a classroom teacher in Massachusetts more than 20 years ago. Since joining the Lander University faculty in 1998, she has helped mold and shape hundreds of students into classroom teachers for school districts in the Greenwood area and around the country.
Her accomplishments as an educator have earned her Lander's 2009 Distinguished Professor Award, which is given for exemplary performance as a classroom teacher and scholar and for service to Lander and beyond.
An associate professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education, O'Connor is also is the co-author and co-director of Lander's Teaching Fellows Program, an instructor of upper-division and graduate courses in special education, and coordinator of the special education program that graduated 22 students in May. And she supervises Lander's teacher candidates during the practice teaching phase of their education.
She is encouraged by the many changes she has seen in education during her career, especially in recent years. "There is a concerted effort to provide mentoring and coaching of new teachers and practicing professionals. There has been a movement toward accountability of teachers and schools collaborating across disciplines, working together to benefit all children."
O'Connor directs Project CREATE at Lander, one of 10 South Carolina colleges and universities participating in the program which helps fill a critical need for special education teachers. It assists special education teachers who have restricted certification to obtain full certification, and prepares qualified full-time public school employees, including paraprofessionals working in non-teaching positions, to pursue careers as special education teachers. She said the program has become a model for other states.
O'Connor has obtained grants totaling more than $1.5 million for Lander programs including Project CREATE. Lander's CREATE is the top-funded program in the state and receives more money than other larger schools.
The Connecticut native received a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in education from the University of Massachusetts, and a doctorate in special education and reading from the University of South Florida. Asked how classroom teaching prepared her for her job at Lander, she replied, "The classroom experience made me aware of the challenges associated with teaching in public schools."
She said Lander's teacher education program has an excellent reputation with public school systems statewide. "Lander's size is its strength and its location is in our favor." She added, "The faculty is pragmatic in the way we approach the job of preparing teachers. While theory is important, seeing its connection and having it modeled is a powerful way for students to learn."
O'Connor works with the Newberry school district and other districts performing field-based research analysis and professional development training for teachers and administrators. She is past president of the S.C. Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children and has served on a state task force for special education.
She has left her mark on Lander teacher education students as both a teacher and an adviser. In remarks prepared for an advising survey, one student said O'Connor does a great job helping her to be successful at Lander, while another student wrote, "She is great. I don't know what I would do without her."