Stan Vasa remembered as outstanding mentor, advocate and friend

Stan Vasa headshot

Stan Vasa remembered as outstanding mentor, advocate and friend

20 Jul 2022     By Kelcey Buck

Stan Vasa, professor emeritus in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, is remembered for his mentorship of faculty and students alike during a storied career in special education. Vasa died July 17, 2022.

“Stan had a tremendous commitment to teaching and education,” associate professor emeritus Al Steckelberg said. “This included future teachers, current teachers, and countless graduate students. He always looked for ways to provide rich experiences which would help people grow and learn. He was an outstanding mentor and advocate. His contributions were enormous.”

Professor emeritus Chris Marvin echoed Steckelberg’s sentiments.

“Students had no better advocate than Dr. Stan Vasa,” Marvin said. “He would do anything to accommodate a student, help them succeed and assure they demonstrated competence and knowledge and passed the class. The young faculty of the 1990s also had an advocate in Stan. We owe much of our individual success to the support and kindness that many, but especially Dr. Stan Vasa, showed us early in our careers.”

Vasa was a faculty member in SECD from 1974 until his retirement in 2008, before returning on a part-time basis until 2012. He specialized in assessment, training of paraeducators, and programming for adolescents in transition from school to post-secondary settings.

“Dr. Vasa was an amazing mentor, advisor, and instructor to many pre-service and teachers across Nebraska and the country,” professor of practice Sue Kemp said. “He wrote many professional development grants that allowed for many people to become special education teachers who would not have been able to afford the tuition to complete a teacher training program. Dr. Vasa touched so many special education teachers’ lives that it is impossible to attend any professional meeting and not hear his name and talk about the impact he had on the profession.”

Vasa was a leader in paraprofessional training, joining Steckelberg in developing Project PARA to conduct research and develop training materials for paraeducators and teachers who supervise them. The project started in the mid-1990s with the development of a self-study, web-based program designed to support schools by providing an easily accessible training tool that could be adapted to fit their needs. As of 2016, Project PARA had served more than 7,000 paraeducators across the state.

“Dr. Vasa’s students were at the center of his professional career,” said Michalla Schartz, a former student of Vasa’s and current instructor for Project CRAVE at ESU 6. “He extended his advocacy to improve education with the many state and federal grants he co-wrote with Dr. Marilyn Scheffler and Dr. Allen Steckelberg. These grants put many teachers and paraeducators into fields in special education. The effect of these training grants can be seen in the professionals spread throughout Nebraska. His long-lasting dedication to improving education has left a permanent imprint in the lives of many teachers, paraeducators and administrators.”

Vasa served as SECD’s graduate committee chairperson and was active in numerous national and state organizations throughout his career. His leadership in the special education program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was particularly revered among his peers.

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of new faculty were hired at Nebraska, especially in SECD. In the special education unit, it was Dr. Stan Vasa who became the unofficial mentor for these young college professors,” Marvin said. “Stan was the person to check in with when you weren’t sure how to mentor a troubled or failing student, do an item analysis on a multiple-choice test and decide how to grade the exam despite everyone failing two questions, or how to advise a student academically when they showed great promise and unique talents.”

John Maag, the Larry and Sharon Roos Professor in Special Education, recalled arriving at Nebraska having already taught college courses, conducted research and been published. Vasa was his mentor, even though Maag didn’t think he needed one.

“I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Maag said. “Stan had so much institutional knowledge that I learned more about how departments, colleges and the university work in my first two years than in my previous experiences. Stan and I once drove together to Denver for a conference held by the Council for Exceptional Children. We stopped at his old farmhouse where he grew up and he told me about rural life growing up in a large family. I learned more life lessons from Stan than any other person besides my own father. Stan was my mentor, colleague, and friend who would do anything for anyone.”

Viewing is from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, at Butherus, Maser & Love Funeral Home, 4040 A Street, Lincoln, with family present from 6-7 p.m. Rosary will follow. Mass of Christian Burial is at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 21, at Cathedral of the Risen Christ, 3500 Sheridan Boulevard, Lincoln. In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Stan & Dona Vasa Scholarship and Fellowship Fund. A livestream of the service will be available. Click here to view the obituary.

Special Education and Communication Disorders
College of Education and Human Sciences