by Claire Miller
Alicia Lenon didn’t mean to walk into the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence located in the College of Education, but when she did, she saw a familiar face on the wall behind the reception desk.
“I was actually looking for another department and I saw Dr. Crim’s portrait on the wall,” she said. “He was the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools when I was a student in grade school. As soon as I walked into the Crim Center and saw the images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his mentor, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, I knew I was at home. I was in a place where I could carry the torch that Dr. Crim lit for us to carry and share in our present communities.”
It wasn’t long before Lenon became a fixture in the center, working on grant proposals and awards, sharing her insights on urban issues in education and making a difference for students with disabilities – all while continuing her studies in the college’s Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education.
Lenon is studying deaf education with Susan Easterbrooks, a COE professor who specializes in language, literacy and learning in deaf children. This subject hits close to home with Lenon, who herself is deaf.
“Dr. Easterbrooks has been very instrumental in guiding my steps through the program so that when I had the chance to step into the classroom, it felt natural,” she said. “I want to share my success with other people who have disabilities, and to give students a strong foundation.”
Through her work in the Crim Center and in her program studies, Lenon has worked with a number of teachers, parents, faculty and students, gaining insight not only into how to work with children with disabilities but also how to advocate for their rights. She speaks at staff orientation and student-learning workshops in the Crim Center to encourage dialogue about people with disabilities and has worked with officials at the Durban University of Technology in South Africa about inclusion for deaf students.
“We need to be a leader in helping people with disabilities,” she said. “We need to set the example for other colleges and universities.”
It’s this attitude and her dedication to her work that won Lenon the 2011 Sparks Award from Georgia State University. Named for Dr. George McIntosh Sparks, the university's first president, the Sparks Award is given to a faculty, staff or student who exemplifies a willingness to go the extra mile with good humor and perseverance.
“I was really shocked,” Lenon said about winning the award. “It was surreal for me. Sometimes we feel like the things we’re doing aren’t appreciated, but the slightest contribution can make a difference.”
Lenon will finish her master’s degree next spring and hopes to find a teaching job at a school in Atlanta where she can be a role model for her students.
"I really want to work with kids – that’s what keeps me going,” she said. “And I want to take what I learn and apply it to a Ph.D. program. I’m trying to make small steps toward learning how to help all people with disabilities.”
For more information about the Crim Center, visit http://education.gsu.edu/cuee. For more information about the COE’s deaf education program, visit http://education.gsu.edu/epse/docs/DHH_Handbook_2008%281%29.pdf.