By Allison Radis
This summer, Ohio University College of Education doctoral Student Tiece Ruffin, traveled to Washington, D.C., as a participant in the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar program. Ruffin excitedly joined the program as one of 10 students selected from 500 applicants nationwide who had an opportunity to work on special projects and experience life in the Capitol.
Ruffin's main concentration during her stay in D.C. was a research program with Assistant Secretary Robert Pasternack of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. With her doctorate focused on curriculum, inspection and a specialization in special education, Ruffin examined the difference between language acquisition and language disabilities, and the ways to distinguish between them.
Ruffin noted that the research is crucial to determining whether a language barrier is preventing a child from learning. "Many times a bright child with a non-English primary language has been deemed 'learning disabled' when in reality they are unable to effectively communicate with others. We need to learn to make the distinction between language acquisition difficulties vs. a disability, or we will misdiagnose students for special education," she said.
In addition to the research, Ruffin's experience included a whirlwind of exclusive conferences, forums and activities. She and fellow scholars attended an invitation only White House briefing on President Bush's Africa Tour. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice spoke during the briefing, which Ruffin noted as a highlight of the trip, "She has always been an inspiration to me. It was a privilege to hear her speak."
The group also visited a taping of "CNN Crossfire" where Senator Hillary Clinton appeared as a special guest and toured the Supreme Court and the West Wing of the White House.
Besides the numerous other forums and briefings on public policy, minority status in education and educational leadership, the 10 scholars had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with the U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
Ruffin reflected, "Dr. Paige took time to openly discuss our thoughts and suggestions on current education issues. We were literally in the midst of where national education policies are born and our ideas were respectfully heard." During one-hour discussion, the group debated over educational philosophies and policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act.
Ruffin is currently working on her doctoral research proposal entitled "African Immigrant and Refugee Students with Limited English Proficiencies and Disabilities." She plans to finish her research and graduate this summer.
Ruffin's future plans are still uncertain, but she is starting to narrow down her options. "Right now I am leaning toward continuing in higher education and focusing my research on special education laws and public policy or possibly pursuing a leadership position in special education at either the federal, state or local level," Ruffin said.
"My main goal is to continue to work within structures to serve and advocate for children and youth with disabilities and to help contribute to equal opportunity and excellence in education."
Affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education, the MLK Jr. Scholar program was created to provide the opportunity for future educators to become familiar with national policy agendas and work personally on a main project geared toward their area of study.
Allison Radis is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.