Our History

The College of Education was formally established in 1959, but the College’s roots were planted a century earlier when in 1849 the State of Michigan (Act No. 138) authorized the Michigan State Normal School. The “Normal” was only the 6th teacher-training institution of its kind in the United States and the first to be built west of the Alleghenies. From its inception, the school valued practical training and established the nation’s earliest laboratory schools. Also embracing the needs of children with disabilities, the school quickly became a pioneer in special education. By the early 20th Century, the school also recognized the benefit of community engagement and was a national leader in developing partnerships with local schools, community organizations, and other prominent institutions of learning. Always anticipating what can be in the ever-changing social, economic, and educational landscapes, the school’s leaders cultivated opportunities and shaped teacher training, policy, and higher education across the state and quickly established an enduring national and global reputation.

What began as two course offerings with the exclusive focus of educating its students in the art of teaching has been transformed into a college with a broader purpose and an extensive range of innovative and flexible programs of study. Built on a foundation of excellence, we continue to be the future of possibilities. 

Written Accounts

1959-1999 [PDF] | 1991-2004

Our Legacy of Excellence

The Michigan State Normal School is founded for the purpose of educating and training teachers to fill the increasing number of public schools across the state. The School offers two courses to its first students: the Classic Course for high school teachers and the English Course for grammar school teachers.
The Normal school’s building of “physical culture” is the first gymnasium of its kind in Michigan. Recognizing the value of physical education, the school is also the first college in the country to offer teacher training in physical education courses.
The Normal school offers its first degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Pedagogy.
The Michigan State Normal College (renamed 1899) becomes the first institution of higher education in the nation to organize a department specifically devoted to the training of teachers for children with disabilities. Widely known for its level of expertise in the field, teachers from around the world travel to Ypsilanti to attend the department’s conferences and summer institutes. The Department of Special Education continues to be a pioneer in the field of special education.
The Theodore Roosevelt School (1925-1969) replaces existing training classrooms and becomes the College’s first of three of laboratory schools. Today, teachers receive extensive early training engaged in learning experiences in community districts, but building on its tradition of providing real-life uses of knowledge to its students, the COE continues to train its advanced Leadership & Counseling and Special Education graduate students through its community-focused Counseling and Speech & Hearing Clinics.
Endowed by the Horace H. Rackham and Mary A. Rackham fund of Detroit, the Rackham School of Special Education opens its doors. The program offers educational services and residential accommodation for children with special needs and is the first facility in the world built specifically for educating and training special education teachers.
Eastern Michigan University is formally established. The Department of Psychology and Education (1916) emerges as the College of Education, and R. Stanley Gex becomes its first dean. At the inception, the COE consists of three departments: Education; Health, Recreation, Physical Education & Athletics; and Special Education. The newly formed College also includes three renowned laboratory schools: Roosevelt, Lincoln, and Rackham.
The Communication Sciences and Disorders major, formerly, Speech-Language Pathology (SLP), is launched. It is the first degree of its kind in Michigan to require a master’s degree. Ever expanding its curriculum and course offerings, the Department of Special Education is one of the most comprehensive special education program in the nation.
Already a leader in community education, the COE’s existing graduate study in Community Education enters into the Community School Administrators program in cooperation with six other Michigan universities. The program graduated 700 students in its 12 year history. EMU’s Center for Community Education (1969) operates for nearly 40 years.
The COE with a grant from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare opens the Reading Academy to serve adults with limited literacy. Later, the program moves to the Ypsilanti Ford Plant, and the UAW-Ford/EMU Academy becomes the first learning center in the nation to be offered on-site in the automotive industry.
Having built a national reputation from its teacher education outreach efforts in Somalia dating back to the 1950s, the United States Agency for International Development (AID) selects EMU to implement teacher education, science education, and business education programs in Yemen and to develop primary curriculum in Swaziland. The COE faculty are central to the execution of these programs, and the College’s global standing is firmly established.
As part of President John W. Porter’s Michigan Model of Educational Reform, the National Center on Teaching and Learning (NCTL) is established to “extend the public service and research mission of Eastern Michigan to the educational community.” Promoting equality, equity, and excellence, the center made visible the College’s ongoing commitment to the wider community.
In the early 1980s, the College undergoes significant restructuring. Three departments are folded into the Department of Teacher Education, and The Department of Leadership & Counseling is created from the merger of two existing departments. The Office of Academic Services also expands its responsibilities to include student teaching, advising, certification, and outreach and recruitment.
On the forefront of the computer revolution, the COE builds its first computer lab and creates an elective course to prepare teachers to use technology. Within two years, the undergraduate program is revised to include a required computer literacy course.
Built in 1852, the one-room school house, Geddes Town Hall School, is relocated to EMU’s campus as a symbol of the University’s commitment to teacher education. The school continues to provide a unique learning space for education and history students. 
The Board of Regents approves EMU’s first doctoral program, in Educational Leadership. Quickly building a reputation of excellence, the program graduates 225 leaders and administrators in its first 25 years.
EMU establishes the John W. Porter Distinguished Chair in Urban Education in honor of President John W. Porter’s (1979-89) leadership in addressing the most pressing educational issues of the time. President Porter is the first of many influential educators to be awarded the prestigious chair. 
The COE initiates the Urban Teacher Program. It is the first program in the state designed to prepare teachers to teach in urban schools and further signifies the College’s enduring commitment to serving the needs of underserved communities.
The Center for Adaptive Technology Education Laboratory (CATE Lab) opens. This innovative facility provides resources, evaluations, and training in adaptive technology for students with disabilities and serves as a training site for special education majors. 
Recognizing the need for an international perspective on education, the COE joins the USA-Sino Teacher Education Consortium. Along with 15 other universities, the partnership develops relationships between teacher educators in China with those in the US. This collaborative effort instigates several future global initiatives and further expands the international educational experiences for COE students. 
The former University Library was refurbished as the home of the College of Education and is renamed the John W. Porter Building in honor of the university’s president (1979-89).
The Dean’s office and the departmental offices moved into John W. Porter Building starting in July.
The COE announces the University’s 4th doctoral program, in Educational Studies. With an initial focus on poverty and its impact on urban communities, the program prepares educators, scholars, and community advocates to engage in effective research and teaching and learning practices.
The Autism Collaborative Center (ACC) opens with the guidance and co-direction of the Special Education faculty. In addition to providing a real-world, therapeutic learning space for students seeking an autism endorsement and master’s students across a range of disciplines, ACC serves individuals and families living with autism.
The Delores Soderquist Brehm Special Education Center for Scholarship and Research expands on the existing Brehm Scholars Program (2004) and research initiatives. The Brehm Center provides scholarships for Special Education majors, funds innovative research, and supports the development of best practices in special education.
The Michael G. Morris Endowed Chair is established in honor of the two-time graduate and vice chair of EMU’s Board of Regents. The funding supports “outstanding faculty members or visiting faculty performing in the top echelons in their disciplines or professional fields” and facilitates transformative learning and leadership experiences in the fields of education and administration.
The Carnegie Foundation classifies EMU as an R3 Research Intensive University. The COE offers two the University’s four doctoral programs, Educational Leadership and Educational Studies and graduates most of the doctoral students at EMU. EMU also holds the Carnegie Foundation’s 2015 Community Engagement Classification for its deep level of engagement with local, regional, national, and global communities.
A collaboration between the COE and several districts across Southeast Michigan, the Pathways for Future Educators Program establishes a support system for urban and rural high school students aspiring to teach in their home districts. The Pathway experience provides support and prepares students with the skills to teach, lead, and inspire the next generation of learners in their communities.

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