Leader in Deaf Education Named to Endowed Chair
As a young girl in India, Shirin Antia, professor in the Department of Disability & Psychoeducational Studies, studied piano and was so talented that her teacher wanted her to compete professionally. But there was one problem: "I froze up in performance," says Antia.
Fortunately, Antia discovered another path: teaching deaf children. One of her childhood friends was deaf, and the girl's mother opened a school in Calcutta for deaf children. Antia volunteered at the school, and a career in teaching unfolded before her. But it wasn't quite as easy as it sounds.
"My first year of teaching was disastrous. I came home every night crying and exhausted. I should have paid the school for that first year!" Antia says of teaching profoundly deaf children at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.
"I had a lot of discipline problems. Teachers rule in India, and the kids don't argue. I didn't know how to deal with some of the behavior problems."
All the while, Antia continued taking classes. "Being around adults at the University of Pittsburgh helped me keep my sanity," she says.
The additional schooling paid off. After almost five years, she joined the University of Pittsburgh, where she soon became a senior teaching fellow. In 1980, she came to the University of Arizona College of Education as an assistant professor.
Now a full professor, Antia recently was named the David and Minnie Meyerson Distinguished Professor of Disability and Rehabilitation.
As part of her work, she investigates the social and academic status â€“ and progress â€“ of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in public schools.
Longtime friend and collaborator Michael Stinson, professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, notes, "She is a warm, enthusiastic fountain of energy and is truly committed to improving the education of these children."
Antia also coordinates the graduate program to prepare teachers. Somehow, she still finds time to be the associate editor of The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education.
An active researcher with numerous publications and several research grants to her credit, she is prolific, having garnered nearly $4 million in federal funding for personnel preparation. Antia's research focuses on academic and social inclusion issues of deaf and hard-of-hearing children in public schools.
"She is widely recognized throughout the nation by her deaf-education colleagues as both an excellent researcher and an effective leader," says Harold A. Johnson, professor at the Michigan State University College of Education. "Her groundbreaking research provides a critical knowledge base needed to both support students and enhance teacher preparation."
The editor of The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education concurs.
"She has an incredibly broad view of deaf education, founded in both research and practice," says Marc Marschark, professor and director of the Center for Education Research Partnerships at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and professor at both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen. She is my model for bridging the two, and she has so much physical and intellectual energy that I love trying to keep up with her."
Born soon after India's independence from Great Britain, Antia grew up in an age when women did not become professionals. "My father had a very sophisticated world view," she says. "He never set any limits and never once indicated that this career path was something I should not do." Other family members had a little more trouble. "Some thought I was way too assertive and that I didn't meet the expectations of an Indian woman and the role I should have in the household."
But Antia has balanced her family and scholarly lives remarkably well and adds, "I am proud that I have been able to do this." She and husband George Price have one daughter, who is studying race relations at Smith College. Antia's family life has been "tremendously" happy, as has her life in academia. "I'm in love!" she explains. "I would never want to be anywhere except in academia. I especially enjoy the collaborations and working with people all around the country and the world."
Working with her students surely tops the list. "I'm in awe of them, and I'm so honored when they tell me, â€˜You put me on the path.' These students are so skilled â€“ I never remember being as skilled as they are."
Antia is adviser to doctoral student Kendra Benedict, who says, "Without Dr. Antia's dedication, this program would not exist. I am so fortunate to have one of the foremost leaders in the field as my mentor."