NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Dr. Shannon Darst, assistant professor, and Donna “DJ” Dean, clinical instructor, in Stephen F. Austin State University’s Department of Education Studies received two of the 12 awards presented by the Texas Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired in 2020 for leadership and service in the field.

Darst received the Phil Hatlen Award, which is presented to an administrator or a university professor who has implemented innovative changes or provided outstanding leadership that ultimately improved services to programming and the quality of life for students with visual impairments.

Darst met Hatlen early in her career while working as a teaching assistant at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He encouraged her to continue seeking her passions.

“I never realized that working with individuals with visual impairments was a passion of mine until many years after Dr. Hatlen's initial encouragement to pursue my passions,” Darst said. “I love this work. I love the people who share in this work with me. I love the kids and adults with whom I have been lucky and blessed to work alongside. The giver in me can never get enough of the work I am so graciously allowed to do every day.”

A published author, Darst has worked with prospective teachers of students with visual impairments across the U.S. since 2014. She developed several courses, including online courses in Unified English Braille code after the transition to the UEB code in 2015. Darst facilitates SFA’s graduate visual impairment preparation program.

Dr. Rona Pogrund, a professor of special education at Texas Tech University, was one of Darst’s nominators for the Phil Hatlen Award.

“Dr. Darst is an emerging leader in the field of visual impairment,” Pogrund said. “She works tirelessly to improve services and to train high-quality future teachers.”

Pogrund added that Darst has contributed significantly to the development and validation of research on two service intensity tools that have impacted services for children who are blind and visually impaired across the nation.

“She serves on multiple stakeholder and professional organization committees, providing leadership wherever she goes,” Pogrund said. “Dr. Darst brings passion and expertise to all that she does to improve the lives of individuals with visual impairments. She is most deserving of this award.”

TAER’s orientation and mobility division presented Dean with the Bob Bryant and Bill Bryan O&M Leadership Award, which is given to an individual who has made an enduring impact on the field of O&M in the state.

Dean said she was “surprised and humbled” by the honor of receiving the award named after Bob Bryant and Bill Bryan, who started the first O&M program in Texas.

“I had the pleasure of learning under both of these men, who are true leaders in our field,” Dean said. “They set a forward path for those of us who came behind them, as well as those who are still to come.”

Working both as a direct service provider and personnel preparation leader, Dean coordinates SFA’s O&M program. She also works closely with community organizations to provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to learn, grow and become effective professionals in the O&M field. Dean serves as internship coordinator and has made agreements with more than 75 agencies and individuals to facilitate the placement of interns.

Dr. Michael Munro, visual impairments specialist at Region 6 Education Service Center, was one of Dean’s nominators for the Bob Bryant and Bill Bryan O&M Leadership Award.

“DJ is an incredibly passionate and talented orientation and mobility specialist and a great teacher,” Munro said. “She brings that passion to her students and models for them the heart of the field. Her students benefit greatly from her excellence in all that she does for them and for the program.”