Assistant Professor

David Royer on the piano

"All teachers, general education and special education, would benefit from the courses focused on student behavior. I wish I had knowledge about ABA and the function of student behavior when I was a high school teacher!"


Santa Rosa, CA


Special Education

How did you become interested in the special education field?

My special education journey began when I was in the first grade. Andrea, a peer who was blind, was mainstreamed in my class with an aide, a Braille machine and Braille books that intrigued me, and other manipulatives and realia. I loved working with her and being her guide at recess, helping her know when to “step up” or “step down.” On weekends at home I would even wear my bathrobe tie as a blindfold, trying to navigate the house by sound, touch, and muscle memory to be more like Andrea, whose strength of character in light of her disability captivated me.

Four years later at our local fairgrounds there was a booth for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). It was awash with adorable adolescent dogs wearing luminous yellow vests that matched dogs I had seen around town for years, but I could never figure out what they were doing and why they could go into stores, restaurants, and seemingly anywhere. I asked the volunteers in the booth about their program and was enchanted by the idea of raising puppies for a year and returning them for advanced training to become service dogs, going on to help people who use wheelchairs, are hard of hearing, or have other emotional or social disabilities alleviated by the reassuring and calming companionship of a service animal. It was there that I learned how acutely I take my own independence for granted, and how for many people with disabilities, independence is a dream or goal they strive to achieve from a young age.

I was very sad when my dad and grandparents with whom I lived were not interested in the puppy raiser program for CCI; we already had two dogs and they did not want the additional responsibility of training puppies in public. I was not about to let that stop me! When I was in high school I wrote a letter to CCI, asking for an application to become one of their advanced dog trainers. Alas, it required an apprenticeship and full time commitment, while I was focused on being a student. Still, I held on to my dream, and once I finished my undergraduate program at Chapman University I moved into a condo in southern California and was accepted into CCI’s puppy raiser program, where I was paired with Ossian, an adorably chunky, eight-week-old pale yellow Labrador retriever. Raising Ossian did not disappoint my 12-year-long buildup of expectations; it was everything I thought it would be and more. I especially loved taking her to class at Chapman University as I worked on my general education English credential. While I started my English credential first, it was the required course in special populations that, through classwork and observations, sparked within me an infatuation with teaching special education. So I also completed my level one education specialist credential and was immediately hired on an ‘emergency credential’ to teach in a resource specialist program at a high school in Long Beach, California. That, is how it all began!

What types of candidates do you hope/recommend to pursue our ABA programs?

All teachers, general education and special education, would benefit from the courses focused on student behavior. I wish I had knowledge about ABA and the function of student behavior when I was a high school teacher!

How do our programs best support and prepare their students?

The dedication professors and instructors have to their students at UHM is impressive. From the level of feedback given on assignments to help students improve and truly grasp concepts, to the hands-on practicum options for direct supervision and support. I am constantly impressed with my colleagues in the special education department.

What is your philosophy of teaching?

When it comes to educational philosophy I am a progressive educator, teaching idealist values in order to reconstruct society, always remembering the essential basics of education. This can all be accomplished via tiered systems of support, reconstructing schools and districts at the system level to ensure effective instruction and intervention is available for all students. Such systems change often starts with one teacher or school administrator taking initiative and bringing ideas to district leaders, or one researcher making a connection at the district level. I empower my students who are learning to be teachers, administrators, and researchers, to be the agent of change wherever they go.

Briefly describe your own road to higher education.

While teaching high school I decided to work on my master’s degree in special education at CSULB. Instead of taking a comprehensive exam, I chose to write a thesis instead. For my thesis, I created My IEP, a curriculum teachers can use to teach students to lead their full IEP meetings. It was a quasi-experimental design where I showed comparison group students in teacher-led IEP meetings talked about 2% of the time, while intervention group students who received My IEP instruction talked about 36% of the time! After completing my master’s degree, CSULB invited me to be a part-time instructor, which I loved doing while still teaching high school full time. One of the courses I was given to teach at the last minute due to a professor going on sabbatical was about applied behavior analysis for teachers. I was hooked! This was the information I and my high school colleagues had always wanted but didn’t know how to ask for it, how to PREVENT challenging behavior. So I decided to study it further — I looked up the top ranked doctoral program for special education and found Dr. Kathleen Lane at University of Kansas, and was extremely fortunate to be able to have her as my advisor and continued mentor ever since.

What are your future plans?

I have enjoyed taking Hawaiian 101, learning more about the islands, and working with HI DOE to support school leadership teams interested in designing, implementing, and monitoring a comprehensive, integrated, three-tiered (Ci3T) model of prevention. My partnership with schools and the DOE has been amazing, and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow together with them!

What do you like to do outside of education?

Anything that gets me outside and away from a computer, especially the beach, tennis, hiking, riding my motorcycle around the island, and anything social that’s not inside. I also enjoy playing the piano and writing choral music.

I'm interested in learning more about a degree or certificate in Special Education.

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