Dr. Sara McDaniel, professor of special education and director of the Center for Interconnected Behavioral and Mental Health Systems at The University of Alabama, has received the 2020 Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award.
“I’m thrilled and humbled to be awarded the Blackmon-Moody Award for excellence in research,” said McDaniel. “In my 10 years at UA, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been supported by leaders and colleagues at the University in developing my research lines and securing federal funding. This support has allowed me to focus heavily on research and the translation of research to practice.”
McDaniel joined the UA faculty in 2011 after earning a doctorate in special education at Georgia State University. During her time at UA, she was promoted and tenured a year early and promoted to full professor in 2016.
McDaniel’s research focuses on treatment for and prevention of students’ social, emotional and behavioral deficits and improving school climate. Her work is grounded in both behavior analytic principles and ecological systems theory. To date, McDaniel has contributed or led research and service projects funded by more than $5 million in grants or contracts.
One recent project she leads, which is supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, looks to design and test whether culturally-appropriate adaptations to two evidence-based violence prevention programs can lead to reductions in discrimination and associated behavioral and emotional outcomes in middle school children. The focus of the project emerged from her research on institutional racism and racial inequities in school discipline approaches, which excessively target Black youth.
“[McDaniel’s] service engagement speaks to a scholar who is not only doing timely groundbreaking research of national significance, but one who is equally committed to the difference that her work makes right at home.”
“We are seeing the need to shift away from researching and supporting social, emotional and behavioral needs in silos,” said McDaniel. “Instead, we are examining and promoting equitable access to strategies that incorporate student mental health, bullying prevention, substance use and abuse prevention, social, and behavioral supports for students. We are also exploring issues of educator development and wellbeing as they relate to safe, supportive school climates and cultures for all students.”
In 2015, McDaniel was the founding director of the Alabama Positive Behavior Support Office. Four years later, she was named director of the Center for Interconnected Behavioral Mental Health Systems, which combines existing research and service efforts on campus under one organization to boost schools and prepare educators who can implement the methods.
“Not only does Dr. McDaniel’s scholarly record stand out as exceptional and timely, but we would be remiss if we did not point out her broader commitment to the social justice issues of equity and inclusion that are at the heart of her scholarship,” said Drs. Kagendo Mutua and John E. Lochman. “In our view, this service engagement speaks to a scholar who is not only doing timely groundbreaking research of national significance, but one who is equally committed to the difference that her work makes right at home.”
The Frederick Moody Blackmon and Sarah McCorkle Moody Outstanding Professor Award is presented annually to a UA faculty member judged to have made extraordinary research contributions that reflect credit on the individual, his or her field of study and on the University. The honor was created by Frederick Moody Blackmon, of Montgomery, to honor the memory of his grandmother, Sarah McCorkle Moody, of Tuscaloosa.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.