February 15, 1999 Vol. III, No. 10

Pearson Signs On as National Deafness Center Director

Young Education Department Program Officer Expected to Enhance Center's Funding Prospects

Although new National Center on Deafness Director Merri Pearson (right) is only 32, she has been a teacher, interpreter, researcher and administrator -and believes that breadth of experience is one of her key strengths.

Pearson will assume leadership of Cal State Northridge's nationally renowned NCOD organization-which serves the university's deaf and hard-of-hearing students-starting March 15.

She has been a program officer for the U.S. Department of Education since 1994, overseeing 325 programs with total annual budgets of $45 million. The projects have focused on both individual living services and social reform. She also has extensive experience in programs that train parents to work with deaf and disabled children.

Retiring center Director Herbert Larson said NCOD has depended on federal funds for many years and hopes to expand that support.

"We feel that Merri Pearson can bring her expertise with her, and that with her knowledge and contacts, NCOD's chances for increased funding will be enhanced," Larson said. He also cited Pearson's "people skills," creativity and new ideas.

Pearson, who is hard-of-hearing, became an elementary school student at a school for the deaf and blind in Montana, and learned American Sign Language (ASL) before she learned English. She then went on to mainstream programs, where deaf and hearing students are in the same classrooms, as occurs at CSUN.

"I later taught in both segregated and mainstream settings, which showed me that equal access, in the form of mainstreaming, improved education," Pearson said.

She also believes that technological tools such as assistive listening devices will be key to the future education of deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Pearson decided to seek the NCOD position because, she said, "NCOD and CSUN have demonstrated a tremendous collaborative effort, really a model of collaboration and mutual support. It is a wonderful working environment."

The staff and faculty here also influenced her decision. "I was impressed by the caliber of the people working there. Herb has done a fabulous job of recruiting and supporting his people." Larson is retiring after working at NCOD since 1979 and directing the center since 1990.

Pearson received her bachelor's degree at Central Washington University and her master's at the University of Puget Sound. She is now completing her doctorate at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

CSUN has one of the country's largest university populations of deaf and hard-of-hearing students, about 250. The campus also was among the first to offer services to mainstream deaf students beginning in the 1960s. NCOD was founded in 1972.

The center has a nearly $2 million annual budget, a full-time staff of 38 and a part-time support services staff of about 200. The center trains and provides tutors, note takers and interpreters for its students, and coordinates a federally funded network of similar programs at universities in 10 western states.

-John Kroll


February 15, 1999

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