2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Columbia University

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Master's Degree Graduates Highlighted for Achievements

As he does every year at the convocation ceremonies, President Arthur Levine highlighted several students in his address. Following are some of those highlights from his remarks along with a glimpse of the life of the master's convocation student speaker, Kelly Aramaki.

In his remarks at the master's convocation, Levine noted that Eric Peeks, Sean Dennehy and Juan Vietorisz were three students who have had obstacles to overcome in reaching their goals. All have been deaf since birth. Sean and Eric received their master's degrees in the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Juan received his Ed.M. in School Psychology, and plans to serve the needs of deaf students.

Sean Dennehy is the only deaf person in his family. He attended a school for the deaf from the age of two-and-a-half through the eighth grade. With his high level of energy and ambition, he longed to follow his favorite brother to a mainstream high school. He did, and he spent his high school years reading lips and reading books to understand the lessons taught since he did not learn American Sign Language until the age of 18. For the most part, he was an introvert. Two things helped him-playing basketball and an English teacher who encouraged and inspired him with an energy Sean could relate to. So Sean decided to become a teacher, himself. After high school, he studied history at NYU, and now that he received his master's degree, he will teach for the New York City Board of Education in the fall. His goal is to someday teach hearing students in a mainstream high school.

Growing up in Nebraska, Eric Peeks had one other sibling who was deaf, and three who were not. Eric entered the Nebraska School for the Deaf in the third grade after struggling in public school with only the help of a hearing aid, lip reading and gestures. Learning American Sign Language opened up a new world for him. Ready for the next challenge, Eric transferred to a mainstream high school. Though he played football, ran for the track team, and was elected to the National Honor Society, he still had difficulty not being able to fully communicate with his hearing peers. He later attended National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York, where he met his wife, Michelle Nappi-Peeks. Both transferred to Gallaudet University, the only deaf liberal arts university in the world. Michelle also received her master's degree from Teachers College. Eric, who currently teaches deaf international students at LaGuardia Community College, hopes to join his wife at Lexington School for the Deaf in Jackson Heights, Queens, as a teacher.

Alejandra Candia received her degree in Educational Administration and is currently involved in establishing the first graduate school of educational policy and administration in Buenos Aires with the president of Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Argentina. Alejandra came to TC on a Fulbright Scholarship and received funding through a partnership promoting international educational development. She calls herself the "first visible outcome" of an agreement between our country and Argentina to encourage graduate studies in education. As a student at TC, Alejandra designed a field guide to evaluate school effectiveness in the countries of the former Soviet Union with Professor Dale Mann.

Before coming to Teachers College, Christina Gross, (M.A. in Organizational Psychology) worked for the Board of Education in Yokohama, Japan. From there, she went on to Peru to research health practices, and then joined the Peace Corps in West Africa. The time she spent living in other countries made her realize how differences in cultural values make it difficult for people to understand each other. She came to Teachers College to find a way to change that. Christina worked with Assistant Professor Peter Coleman of TC's International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution to learn how to improve communication between cultures. She was awarded a fellowship to study at the Peace Research Institute in Ireland next year, but turned it down. Instead, she will be working as a Presidential Management Fellow with the State Department in a program that helps outstanding graduate students achieve success in their careers. Christina was one of 30 applicants out of thousands to be chosen. She will be working in the State Department Bureau of European Affairs which deals with European conflicts, along with policy and planning issues surrounding the conflict in Kosovo.

Bang Thuc Ban is the first master's degree student from Vietnam in the Art and Art Education program. Before coming to Teachers College, Ban was Dean of Art Theory and History at the University of Hanoi and a nationally recognized lacquer painter. In 1996, the Ministers of Culture and Education chose her to spearhead the development of a nationwide program in art teacher education. Professor Judith Burton was instrumental in helping to develop the program. When Ban returns to Hanoi in the fall, she will bring with her a blueprint for the education of arts teachers in her country. Many of the faculty who will be part of that program will follow in her footsteps as Teachers College students.

Kelly Aramaki, the student speaker at the master's convocation, came to New York from Seattle, Washington. While doing his undergraduate work at the University of Washington, Aramaki was considering entering the medical field until, as a Head Start volunteer, he worked in the emergency room at Seattle's Children's Hospital and realized he liked working with children. Kelly said, "I knew I had a drive in me, but it wasn't defined. I knew if I went to TC, it would help me develop a drive to do something." His advisor, Assistant Professor Celia Oyler, got him involved in Unified and Equitable Education, a group that promotes inclusive classrooms. By working in inclusive classrooms, Aramaki said the thing he found crucial to the success of students with and without disabilities was a sense of community and a sense of belonging. "Kids who don't have disabilities, when they see no one is excluded, when they look at their own differences, it doesn't matter because we are all accepted," he explained.

"Together," he encouraged his fellow graduates, "we, the teachers, psychologists, special educators, administrators, nutritionists of the new millenium need to help create this kind of community, this all-inclusive environment." Aramaki will pursue a teaching position this fall in a suburban school district outside of Seattle.

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