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Exceptional Teachers Deserve Exceptional Professors

Great teachers turn everyday lessons into a lifetime of learning, and at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, an exceptional faculty makes the Master of Arts in Special Education program truly unique.

These professors combine the highest academic credentials—with decades of shared experience in the K-12 classroom. During your Special Education studies, the professors will become mentors and friends as you build a more inclusive classroom and a more rewarding teaching career.

Click the names below for more details.

Program Director

  • Program Director

    Leslie Mathews received a B.S. in Special Education from Union University in Jackson, TN with teaching endorsements in early childhood special education and K-12 mild/moderate disabilities.


  • Associate Professor

    Dr. John Fry is a passionate educator and leader who is committed to transforming both the academic and social-emotional trajectory of students. He is a licensed K-12 principal and Director of Special Education.

  • Adjunct Instructor

    After a number of years practicing as a social worker with juvenile delinquents, Dawn Kelly elected to change fields in order to become more proactive.

  • Adjunct Instructor

    Risë Nybakke is an assistive technology specialist for the Minneapolis Public Schools. She has been serving in the role for 18 years and is on a team with two speech clinicians, an occupational therapist, and an associate educator.

  • Assistant Program Instructor

    Sarah Papineau is a literacy coach at the district level servicing 18 elementary schools and six middle schools. As a coach in her district, she also continues to have a group of students for part of the day.

  • Associate Professor

    Debra Castner, Ed.D., has been teaching students who receive special education for more than 25 years. Since 2011 she has been with Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. During the day, Dr.

  • Adjunct Instructor

    Pat Gordon has more than 15 years of experience in the field of special education, which has included many grade levels and public school settings. He has worked as a special education paraprofessional, teacher, coordinator, and director.

  • Adjunct Instructor

    Nichole Neron Kloss has been working with students in special education for more than 15 years.

  • Adjunct Instructor

    Shaun Pakenham is a passionate educator with the focus of empowering students to identify and relish in the positive traits that make them a valuable, unique citizen of the world.

  • Associate Professor

    Dr. Olson’s background covers a variety of experiences in K-12 education settings.