UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School laments the passing of Melvyn I. Semmel, professor in UCSB’s Department of Education from 1978-1994. Dr. Semmel passed on February 25, 2021 at the age of 89.
Prof. Semmel, with his wife and colleague Dr. Dorothy Semmel, was the founder and leader of what is now the Special Education, Disability, and Risk (SPEDR) research area in the Department of Education at the Gevirtz School. SPEDR, a component of the Ph.D. degree Program in Education, is concerned with educating researchers and practitioners about the educational needs of students with disabilities and their families.
Semmel was the founding director of a series of research centers across the country, including at the University of Indiana and the University of Michigan, culminating with the establishment of the Special Education Research Laboratory (SERL) at UCSB. Semmel originated the concept of “policy analysis research” at SERL, which went on to contribute a steady flow of new research in this and related areas.
Under Semmel’s leadership, the Special Education Program and Laboratory went on to win millions of dollars in federal research and training grants. Until his retirement in 1994, Semmel’s leadership contributed to a stream of doctoral students who subsequently filled research, policy, and teacher education positions at major universities around the United States and around the world. By the end of the 1980s, UCSB’s special education program rose to sixth in national reputation compared to far larger universities and programs.
Among his many career achievement awards, he was the inaugural recipient of the Research Career Award from the Council for Exceptional Children. In 1995, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Research in Special Education from the American Educational Research Association. In 2007, Professor Semmel was named the 2007 Peabody College (Vanderbilt University) Distinguished Alumnus.