UNC Asheville assistant prof recognized as Community Connector

Tiece Ruffin, assistant professor of education and winner of UNC Asheville's Community Connector Award, with Kate Pett (right), executive director of the Asheville City Schools Foundation. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville

Press release from UNC Asheville:

Tiece Ruffin Receives UNC Asheville Community Connector Award

Tiece Ruffin, UNC Asheville assistant professor of education, has been named the fourth recipient of the university’s Community Connector Award, given by the university’s Key Center for Service Learning and Community Citizenship with support from Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.

“My engagement as a social change agent is not just about rhetoric – it is fueled by action and I share it with my students. My pedagogical approach of service learning and community connections is congruent to the liberal arts model where students are encouraged to move out of self-absorption towards intercultural competence, global perspectives, and world citizenship,” said Ruffin.

Ruffin connects her students in service learning in a way that brings valuable educational experience while benefitting the families of Mission Children’s Hospital’s Family Support Network. During network meetings, Ruffin’s students care for the children – many of whom have special needs – so the parents can gather to share experiences, give each other support and practical knowledge and learn of resources that can help them. Anne Johnston, western regional parent educator for the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, said of Ruffin, “she exceeds the boundaries of traditional talk-and-teach instruction and creates experiential opportunities for her students to interact with families.”

“As a parent in this support group, it has been a pleasure to watch her train and teach in ‘live time’ with her students, and with the children who may someday be her students’ students,” said Johnston. In exchange, parents in the network come to UNC Asheville to meet with Ruffin’s students to educate them from a parental perspective about the needs of exceptional students, an experience Johnston describes as “extremely therapeutic” for the parents.

Ruffin also gives of her time to many local boards, including those of Asheville City Schools Foundation, Read to Succeed Asheville, the Asheville City Schools AIG (Academically and Intellectually Gifted) Advisory Board, UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education, and she is the faculty advisor to the university’s Black Student Association.

“Tiece has lent her expertise to our board for four years, and in that role, she has really elevated our discussion about how to serve all kinds of children in public education,” said Kate Pett, executive director of the Asheville City Schools Foundation. “She has made us thoughtful about things that we do as a board, and made us a more inclusive and effective board for talking about difficult issues including inequities and structural racism. She has also been just a great teammate, one of our most solid board members.”

Ruffin also authored a series of guest columns in the Asheville Citizen-Times to mobilize community action on issues of social justice in education. “I view community engagement as pivotal to a social justice framework of living where the quality of life in a community is enhanced via one’s active participation in the community,” said Ruffin. “My community engagement emphasizes working collaboratively with the community to identify problems and to enact solutions.”

Ruffin frequently is invited to share her research and scholarship to benefit communities off campus. Last year, she presented “Supporting our Black Boys by Combatting Unconscious Bias and the Criminalization of Black Males in an Elementary School: How Parental Advocacy Prompted a School System to Change its Policy,” at the Joint National Conference of the National Association of African American Studies & Affiliates. The presentation was based on her work in Asheville City Schools. She also has led workshops for area K-12 teachers on culturally relevant pedagogy, and she has shared her research related to disability among Somali refugees as a keynote speaker in Virginia.

Ruffin melds her roles as an educator of tomorrow’s teachers, as a parent, and as an active citizen of the community. “We can’t talk about teaching as simply confined to all the responsibility lying with the schools and the teacher alone,” said Ruffin. “I truly believe that in order to transform and equitably serve our community well, we don’t really have a choice – it is something we all have to be engaged in.”

Past winners of UNC Asheville’s Community Connector Award are Kathie Garbe, associate professor of health and wellness; Ameena Batada, assistant professor of health and wellness, and Michelle Bettencourt, associate professor of Spanish.

About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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