Why This Couple Gave Millions To Bolster Special Education at This University

William and Delores Brehm recently gave $3.26 million to Eastern Michigan University to train special education professionals and researchers who support people with disabilities. The money will be used to expand the Delores Soderquist Brehm Center for Special Education Scholarship & Research, establish the Delores Soderquist Brehm Endowed Research Fellowship in Special Education program, and establish the Delores Soderquist Brehm Endowed Fellowship in Music Therapy.

With this gift, the Brehms have given more than $8.5 million to Eastern Michigan University over the years, and much of this work has involved special education.

Let's face it: The issue of preparing folks to teach in special education often goes under the radar. Like many other fields, though, there's a serious shortage. A recent neaToday article pointed out that "during the 2013-2014 school year, 49 states reported a shortage of special education teachers. The demand for special educators is expected to grow at a rate of 35 percent over the next 10 years, as the number of students receiving services continues to spike while the number of special education teachers shrinks. Employment of special education teachers is projected to grow at a rate of just 6 percent from 2012 to 2022."

Philanthropy can play a role in addressing these statistics. Thankfully, the Brehms are on the case. But what prompted this most recent gift by the couple, and what explains their dedication to special education at Eastern Michigan University?

Well, Bill Brehm served in such roles as assistant secretary of the United States Army, as well as in high-ranking private industry roles at places like Computer Network Corporation, and SRA International. As it turns out, it's Delores Brehm's story as an alumna of Eastern Michigan University that drives much of this philanthropy.

Delores Brehm grew up in southeastern Michigan and didn’t even intend on going to college until she received a small scholarship to attend then-named Michigan State Normal College. While at the school, she met her future husband, William, who went to University of Michigan. Oh, and Delores Brehm majored in special education in school.

Here we have yet another example of alumni loyalty and personal elements coming together to drive a gift. It's true that special education doesn't come up often, but the themes and lessons here come up all the time.