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Dean, Faculty Chart Course for
Neag School of Education
September 20, 1999

Imagine being in the shoes of Richard Schwab, dean of the Neag School of Education. He arrives at the University in August of 1997 with the goal and ambition to build the school of education into one of the nation's top programs. He's at the University for a mere 18 months, when suddenly a $21 million gift lands in his lap. To an outsider, it would seem like an incredible stroke of luck.

"I feel very fortunate. It's an incredibly generous gift from Ray Neag," says Schwab, "but getting it wasn't a matter of luck. It was the result of a lot of hard work by a number of people, including the School of Education faculty."

On Friday, Ray Neag '56 will be honored for his generosity to the University and the School of Education. In a daylong celebration, the school will be formally renamed for the UConn alumnus.

Schwab points to three major factors that convinced Neag his money would be put to good use by the School of Education. First and foremost, the school's faculty put together a blueprint for developing a school of education worthy of attaining national stature. Then there's the support of President Philip Austin, who believes a Research One university should play a major role in public education. And not to be forgotten is Neag's belief in the importance of classroom teachers.

"Education made a big difference in my life," says Neag. "I saw this gift as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of thousands of school children in Connecticut and the nation."

Schwab says, "Ray Neag made a strategic business investment. It's an investment in the faculty's vision of where they want to go and how they're going to accomplish it."

So how will they get there? Last year, a committee representing each of the four departments within the School of Education scrutinized its programs and its needs. For more than six months, the committee studied mission statements and reports from UConn and 32 other universities. The group analyzed what the school and its faculty are good at, and what the future trends in education may be. The committee also checked out the competition at other schools. The resulting analysis focused on areas where readjustments could be made and in what areas resources should be increased or reallocated.

What the committee came up with is a bold vision, with six major initiatives. They range from educating learners at risk to increasing and improving professional development for classroom teachers. The plan, which was reviewed and approved by the school's faculty, will take a number of years to phase in all the changes, but efforts are already well underway.

Among the first additions will be two endowed chairs - one in literacy, the other in special education, with a focus on children's behavioral disorders. A national search will be conducted for additional graduate students. And two of the school's nationally recognized centers of excellence, the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development and the five-year teacher education program, will receive increased financial support.

Another byproduct of the Neag gift will be rolling off the presses next fall. The Neag faculty is collaborating on a series of six scholarly products, covering topics from diversity to health and wellness across the life span. In some cases, the product may be a videotape or a published curriculum guide. The first product is a book titled, The Neag School of Education Model for Professional Development. Schwab is hoping that in five years' time, he'll be able to see the Neag model being put into action by teachers in classrooms across the country.

And that's just the beginning. There are plenty of other changes in the making. Schwab vows that the school will be more cost-effective: "Our needs are infinite and our resources are finite."

Although the Neag gift is a big boost to the school, the money is coming in over a number of years. Increasing the school's annual fund-raising effort is critical to accomplishing the strategic initiatives. The fund now generates $30,000 a year. Schwab wistfully points to the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and its annual fund, which generates $400,000 a year. "We've got a long way to go in this area if we're going to compete with the top programs," he says.

Other critical areas targeted for attention include: actively pursing more federal grants, expanding distance learning programs, and forging strong relationships with other UConn schools and colleges.

So with just a couple of days before the Neag School of Education's renaming ceremony, there's plenty for the dean to be thinking about. Says Schwab: "It's going to be a wonderful day for the school and a wonderful day for education in this country as we celebrate Ray Neag's generosity."

Janice Palmer