College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

School of Education PhD Candidate is Awarded Grant for Research on Technology-Integrated Mathematics Writing Interventions for Students with Disabilities

February 1, 2024


Reagan Mergen

Reagan L. Mergen, doctoral candidate in the School of Education at George Mason University, has received funding in support of her research on the use of a technology-based graphic organizer (TBGO) with embedded self-regulated learning strategies for mathematics writing with 7th grade students with and without disabilities in inclusive mathematics classrooms. This research is supported, in part, by the Division for Learning Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children, Candace S. Bos Innovative Project Grant. This award supports doctoral students, teachers, and other pupil services personnel who provide services to students with learning disabilities as they develop creative projects to enhance instruction, curriculum, action research, and service delivery.

Mergen, who is pursuing a PhD in Education with a Special Education Specialization, is an ASPIRE scholar at Mason. Funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), Project ASPIRE prepares scholars for higher education faculty positions to advance special education pedagogy, innovation, and research toward effective interventions for students with high-incidence disabilities. Among the competencies scholars acquire through the ASPIRE doctoral program are leadership qualities in technology use and the ability to leverage technological innovations while serving as faculty in special education teacher preparation programs. Mergen’s research interests are aligned with the focus of the ASPIRE Project and center on universal design for learning (UDL), promoting learner agency and outcomes in mathematics interventions, and preparing teachers to educate all learners through UDL and culturally responsive research-based practices. Mergen also has experience as both a special and general educator teaching K-12 as well as higher education students in a variety of settings including here at Mason and at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. As an adjunct instructor at both institutions, Mergen has prepared pre-service educators. Her extensive special education research and her hands-on teaching experience facilitated her selection for the ASPIRE program at Mason.

Mergen’s dissertation is titled Exploring the Effects of a Universally Designed Technology-Based Graphic Organizer with Embedded Self-Regulated Learning Strategies on Mathematical Writing, Achievement, and Self-Efficacy Beliefs for Adolescents with Disabilities. “The goal of the project,” Mergen explains, “is to provide information from which practitioners and researchers can evaluate current mathematics writing instructional practices and develop plans for future technology-integrated mathematics writing interventions as well as support teacher preparation and professional development in this area.”

In addition to working on her dissertation and her responsibilities as an adjunct instructor, Mergen is a graduate research assistant at Mason where she is engaged in multiple projects including a systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the impact of UDL-based interventions on student learning and WEGO Projects that address how technology-based graphic organizers and educational games can help students with their writing. In her other activities, Mergen is involved with the Tutors-to-Teachers program, an initiative established to facilitate a pipeline of future teachers in response to the ongoing teacher shortage in Virginia. She is also co-author of several research-based scholarly works that have been presented at multiple national and regional conferences.

When asked about why she chose Mason to pursue her doctoral degree, Mergen emphasized that it was the quality of the Special Education program for which the university is known. She stated, “I came to Mason because of the reputation of the Special Education program and faculty as well as the opportunity for funded PhD studies through the ASPIRE Project. I had been working as a special education teacher for many years and had recently accepted a position as an adjunct instructor at Portland State University. I was dabbling with the idea of going back to get my PhD and made a few Google searches for ‘names I knew,’ specifically special education researchers whose work I was familiar with. When I saw the faculty at Mason and that there was an opportunity to work with Dr. Evmenova, Dr. Regan, and Dr. King-Sears and others who all have incredible reputations as researchers in the field of special education, I had to jump on it! I moved with my family across the country during the pandemic in 2020 and am so thankful that we made that move!”

Mergen shared what she enjoys most about the Special Education program at Mason. She noted, “For me, it is all about the people! We have incredible faculty at Mason who are innovative, supportive, and encouraging. There are also so many phenomenal students at Mason who contribute a wealth of knowledge and experiences to this learning community. They make learning and working at Mason a unique and enriching experience.”

Regarding her plans after she completes her doctoral degree, Mergen commented, “My goal is to work in academia, conducting research and teaching in-service and pre-service special educators. As an OSEP-funded scholar, I have made a commitment to give back to the field of special education, so that is what I plan to do.”

Please join the College of Education and Human Development community in congratulating Reagan Mergen for her outstanding work and achievements as reflected by her selection for the Division for Learning Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children, Candace S. Bos Innovative Project Grant.