“ADHD is just something you’re born with.”
“Technology is ruining kids’ ability to concentrate.”
“Behavior problems are the result of poor parenting.”
Mary Cameron, Ph.D., brought a skepticism toward these educational maxims with her when she arrived at the University of Findlay in 1998. With years of classroom experience and a vast knowledge of brain-based learning, Cameron believes that many special needs conditions, including autism, dyslexia, ADHD and ADD are caused by something neurobiological.
“That’s why it’s so important to acquire a clinical understanding of the brains of children with special needs,” she added.
Retiring at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, Cameron has worked most of the licensure areas in the College of Education. Throughout her tenure, she has consistently received outstanding student evaluations, possibly attributable to her knowledge of the neurobiology of learning and brain research in addition to her skill as a mentor and teacher.
Cameron has always believed that many of the labels put on children are oversimplified.
“Attention problems, for instance, can be caused by many things, including depression, allergies, lack of sleep, a dysfunctional family or even bullying,” she emphasized.
In an effort to bring a true understanding of both the educational and clinical perspectives of how the brain changes during the learning process, Cameron teamed up in 2004 with her neurologist husband, Donald Cameron, M.D., to offer a graduate class, the Neurobiology of Learning and Behavior. They will continue to teach the class online after her retirement from full time teaching.
Mary’s parents spoke Spanish while she was growing up in Jamaica. Always one to rise to a challenge, she opted to major in French in college because Spanish was “too easy.” She earned a graduate degree and became an assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of the West Indies.
The Camerons met when Donald was a medical student in Jamaica, got married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1977. Since Donald treated so many children with special needs, he found he needed a liaison with area school systems. This situation, coupled with the fact that that the importance of the brain in learning “exploded” in the 1990s, led Mary to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Toledo. The title of her dissertation? “Brain Electrical Activity in the Underachiever.”
She began visiting area schools as an advocate for children with special needs, but was drawn back to teaching and accepted a position at the University of Findlay. Students pursuing a teaching career at UF are richer in their knowledge of how the brain functions, thanks to Cameron’s passion for educational neuroscience.
According to Cameron, teaching is one of the most rewarding careers. Her advice to those who are ambivalent about life in the classroom is encouraging.
“You must listen to your heart,” she added. “Don’t be discouraged.”
“Teaching is dynamic,” she continued. “It’s never boring. There’s a new set of students every year.” She also feels that teachers can have a major impact on students’ lives.
“When you have an impact on individual lives, you, in turn, have an impact on society,” she stressed.
Committed to Scholarship
The professor from Jamaica is one of many faculty who have worked to achieve recognition for the College of Education. She was a leader in the national accreditation process for the Intervention Specialist program from the Council for Exceptional Children, and has served on many University committees. Her areas of research have included the neurobiology of learning, implications of brain research for teaching and learning, innovative pedagogy to include students with diverse abilities, and ethics in education.
With Donald Cameron also retiring from his medical practice, the couple is planning the next stage of their lives and, no doubt, it will involve education.
“I think we’ll both do something in a volunteer capacity,” Mary stated. “Of course, there are our children and grandchildren to nourish as well.”