Special Education alumna Christie Gilson honored with UI Alumni Association humanitarian award for improving and enriching lives of others

by The College of Education  /   Apr 1, 2013

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Christie L. Gilson, Ph.D. '08 SpEd, assistant professor of Education at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., has been selected to receive the 2013 Alumni Humanitarian Award by the University of Illinois Alumni Association (UIAA).

The Alumni Humanitarian Award, established in 2001, is bestowed upon alumni of the University of Illinois by the Alumni Association, on behalf of the U of I. It is presented to those alumni who, "through their outstanding involvement and dedication, have made a significant contribution of volunteer leadership or service which has improved or enriched the lives of others and the welfare of humanity, and whose accomplishments reflect admirably on or bring honor to their Alma Mater."

Dr. Gilson is modest when talking about the honor, saying, "When I heard that I had been chosen to receive the Humanitarian Award from Illinois, I was deeply humbled. After all, thousands of truly worthy alumni from Illinois do tremendous work all over the world. I take my responsibility to serve students and other populations very seriously, and I urge others reading this to do the same."

For being named with the prestigious honor, Gilson credits God, her loving parents and family, and "those who—despite the skepticism of others—believe in those of us who don’t fit the typical mold." Gilson told the College of Education.

Gilson said she dreamt of attending college at the University of Illinois, where she also earned her master's degree in Social Work, "since the time that I realized college was possible for me. I longed to be challenged by its curriculum and inspired by its instructors."

Gilson is quick to point out that her doctoral studies in the College of Education exceeded her expectations on both accounts, naming some of the Education faculty who inspired her. "Daniel Walsh impressed upon me the hard work I would have to produce as an academic. Jennifer Greene guided me in my quest to incorporate social justice in my research. Thomas Schwandt pushed me to understand how I make meaning of my world in ways I had never contemplated before," Gilson said.

"Faculty in the Department of Special Education were no less supportive," Gilson continued. Her academic adviser, Stacy Dymond, "accepted nothing but the best from me in my research and my writing. John Trach knew that I would pass qualifying examinations when I was not at all sure I would. Jim Halle’s interdisciplinary approach of combining special education with social work mirrored my own. Johnell Bentz, Jan Gaffney, Janis Chadsey, Tom Grayson, and Adelle Renzaglia all demonstrated their belief in me when I felt vulnerable or uncertain."

Prior to receiving either degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "Dr. Gilson had already begun distinguishing herself among her peers for her humanitarian contributions to society and to the field of Special Education," said Michaelene Ostrosky, head and Goldstick Family Scholar in the Department of Special Education. As a tireless advocate of individuals with disabilities, Gilson has authored numerous articles and book chapters focusing on special education and disability studies. As she teaches others about social justice, inclusion, and access to education for all, she imparts that the language we use to interact with others matters because it reflects our inner ways of thinking about one another.

"She pushes her students, practicing teachers, and other professionals and community members to continually re-examine the language they use and the perspectives they have about persons with disabilities," Ostrosky wrote in the nomination form. "This self-reflection is critical if we wish to make our communities more inclusive, accessible, and welcoming."

Gilson is not one to sit on the sidelines. "From the time I was a little girl, my parents told me that, as a person who is blind, I would have to be smarter, better-prepared, and more flexible than the average job seeker without a disability," Gilson told the College of Education in March after being nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. "Though I wish I could believe that people with disabilities no longer need to over-compensate for their disabilities, I know that we still do…"

Gilson's White House administrative post began in June, and she is serving a three-year term with the possibility of a serving a second one. In 2006, Gilson was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study higher education for students with disabilities in Hong Kong.

Read entire College News article about Dr. Gilson's appointment to a White House key administrative post…