Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Michele Gruen

gruenName: Michele Gruen’07

Age: 29

Education (UR and additional): BA (American Sign Language), University of Rochester, 2007; Ed.M (Deaf Education), Boston University, 2010; M.Ed (Special Education: Students with Mild to Moderate Disabilities), Northeastern University (currently)

Current city/state of residence: Brighton, MA

Employer: Boston Public Schools

Community activities: In 2012 I ran the Boston Marathon for Boston’s Children’s Hospital and raised over $4500 for charity.

 Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

When I was a senior in high school I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was interested in math and science, so I wanted to attend a school with a good reputation in those subjects, but also one that offered a wide variety of other courses.  When I came for a visit to the University and heard all about the Cluster system, I knew it would be a great fit for me—I could take courses in a particular area but did not have to take the mandatory core courses that other colleges and universities required of their freshman and sophomores.  I loved the atmosphere on the campus from my initial visit, and the people I met were very welcoming and friendly.

When and how did you choose your major?

As an incoming freshman and even as a sophomore, I was undecided about my major.  I took a bunch of courses in different areas to try out new things, but ultimately decided to major in a subject that was fun for me: American Sign Language.  The first course I took was during the beginning of my sophomore year, and I enjoyed it so much that I continued to take courses in that area.  Because I still did not know what I wanted to major in, and I was so intrigued by the courses that the American Sign Language department had to offer, I decided to continue on that track and ultimately I majored in it.  It was such a unique and eye-opening experience for me.   The cluster system also allowed me to continue with other courses I enjoyed and I ended up having minors in Spanish and Linguistics by the time I graduated.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was a member of the varsity swim team for all four years of college, and I loved being involved with UR athletics.  For me, participating in a sport was a way for me to get into a daily routine and have some structure in my day.  The swim team was an immediate group of friends for me when I started college freshman year, and I gained a lifelong group of friends from spending so much time together for four years.  I think my class underwent some unique challenges, for example we had three different head coaches in four years of swimming, but through it all we stuck together.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Since I loved learning American Sign Language so much during college, I wanted to find a way to continue using it so I would not lose it after college.  I also decided that I wanted to become a teacher—since I was fourteen years old I worked at a camp every summer in my home town.  I decided the best way for me to combine these two interests would be to teach children who are Deaf.  After graduation, I moved to Boston to attend Boston University for graduate school where I earned my Master’s Degree in Deaf Education.  During grad school I worked as a Teacher’s Aide at a school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing where I could practice and improve my skills in American Sign Language and be fully immersed in Deaf culture.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I work at a unique Boston Public School for students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  The students who I work with are high school students who are new to the country and Deaf.  They are learning American Sign Language and English for the first time.  It is challenging but rewarding for me everyday.  They teach me about their cultures and experiences growing up in other countries while I teach them about this country.  My students are motivated to come to school everyday, which makes it a blast for me!

By definition, the students I work with are English Language Learners and fall under the category of Special Education.  I am currently working towards a second Master’s degree in Special Education: Students with Mild to Moderate Disabilities, so that I can continue to learn and apply the best teaching practices to the student population that I work with.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Everything!  I am using the skills in language and culture I learned from my courses in American Sign Language everyday.  My teachers from college were fabulous and I formed a special bond with them throughout my years at UR.  If I had not taken an ASL class for fun I do not think I’d be doing what I’m doing today.

How are you still connected with the University?

I am still good friends with the people I met during my undergraduate years—from swimming, classes, and dorm life.  There are also a lot of UR graduates who live in the Boston area, and when I first moved here it was really nice to have some familiar faces.  I attend the alumni events in Boston where I continue to meet new people!

What advice do you have for current students?

Be open-minded about your future career and take classes in areas you enjoy!  Don’t take courses because you think you have to—there is flexibility in your schedule so be creative!