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Dawn Gavin: 'TC Has Done a Great Deal For Me'

Dawn Marie Gavin, who is the Dr. Gay Culverhouse Dewey Scholar for the 1998-99 academic year, is in her second year as a doctoral student in Special Education. Gavin is not new to TC. She received her M.A. in Special Education in 1995.

In the interim, she went on to complete an Ed.M. at Harvard but says she missed TC and her work at a local elementary school in the Bronx, P.S. 811, where she taught students with mental retardation. When she came back to New York, she returned to the two institutions that meant much to her. "When I returned to both last fall, I had the best of two worlds: my work on the doctoral level and my classroom work."

Gavin is also an Elihu Rose Fellow. As part of the fellowship she works at Literacy Partners, a non-profit volunteer-based organization whose mission is to help adults develop reading, writing, and mathematics skills. Nevertheless, the financial burden of the doctoral program, even with the generous support of the Rose Fellowship, was proving to be an insoluble problem and almost derailed her career plans. "Tuition totaled 60% of the salary I earned at P.S. 811," she said.

Gavin talked of the heavy toll that the cost of tuition was taking on her life at the annual John Dewey dinner at Casa Italiana in late October. She gave a candid and emotional speech to more than 140 members of the John Dewey Circle. (Members of the Circle contribute $1,000 or more to the TC Fund.)

In her remarks to the members of the John Dewey Circle, Gavin said, "Without the scholarship aid made possible by the TC Fund, I would not be a TC student anymore." Thanks to the overwhelming support of alumni and friends, the TC Fund has hit a new all-time high: $1.1 million. Contributions to the TC Fund are "unrestricted," which means the College uses the donations where the needs are greatest-whether for student scholarships, new technology, faculty research, on-going programs, or academic department initiatives.

Luckily, Gavin said, she had someone to turn to for advice about her financial problems, Linda Hickson, Professor of Education and Director of the Center for Opportunities and Outcomes. Hickson and her colleagues focus on finding proactive ways to support research with direct applications to the lives of people with disabilities. Hickson worked to match Gavin's drive with Culverhouse's generosity.

Gavin added that she was proud to be part of TC's "demonstrated commitment to urban education" and praised the faculty for the role they played in her professional development. "It is the application of theory to classroom practice that I gain through being at TC. My current role as both teacher and student informs my research and serves as a constant frame of reference for my teaching."

Expanding on what she sees as TC's influence on her professional career, Gavin said, "TC has helped me to see the necessity of expanding my conception of my job from teacher to teacher and advocate. I can't express how much my students mean to me-they are some of the most special people I have ever been privileged to know."

"As an advocate," Gavin continued, "I believe my job is not only to recognize the potential of my students, but also to enable others to recognize their abilities and talents."

In her letter thanking Culverhouse, who is a TC Trustee and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education and Psychology, Gavin wrote, "Receiving this scholarship has been a transformative experience for me and I want you to know how your generosity has impacted on my life…It is no exaggeration to say that this scholarship has allowed me to continue my studies here at TC."

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