TLTE Ph.D. grad earns dissertation award

Dottie Bussman (front) with her dissertation committee (L-R) Ted Hamann, Elaine Chan (on screen), Karl Hostetler and Robert Brooke.

TLTE Ph.D. grad earns dissertation award

28 Apr 2016     By Brad Stauffer

Dottie Bossman, a May 2015 Ph.D. graduate from Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education (TLTE), has been recognized with the Outstanding Dissertation Award by the Disability Studies in Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Bossman has a personal connection to the research of disabilities and their influence on people and their education. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her late 20s. Her illness interrupted a 10-year career as a secondary English teacher in the Omaha area, but led to new opportunities in education.

Her dissertation takes a unique approach to the topic of disabilities and learning—“The Unexpected Benefits of a Debilitating Illness.” She examines “the manner in which most educational institutions treat, represent, and serve individuals with disabilities.” In her acceptance of the award, Bossman writes, “Among the arguments made within this work, the boldest may be the claim that I could have gained from my disability, followed closely by the suggestion that people with disabilities need respect from those who are able-bodied more than we need their assistance.”

Ted Hamann, professor in TLTE, chaired Bossman’s dissertation committee. “I watched a full-time high school teacher and grad student have to switch gears away from the initial observation-heavy policy implementation analysis she had intended, to instead invoke her autobiography (and a deep, deep, deep well of literature) to raise questions about how the education system treats teachers with Multiple Sclerosis and then, more generally, those students and teachers whose personal circumstances are different than the system expects,” said Hamann.  “Her dissertation really is a beautiful document, as well as an important one, and I’m thrilled that AERA’s Special Interest Group for Disabilities Studies in Education chose to recognize it with their 2016 Outstanding Dissertation Award.”

Bossman’s transparency is both illuminating and sobering. “I admit that lessons like this are not worth getting sick, but they are worth something, and I have been changed by the learning,” she writes. “I am glad to have become more thoughtful, more understanding, more creative, and more patient than I was before. It is not easy having this disease, but realizing that I have benefited from MS ameliorates its pain somewhat.

“More important than this particular accomplishment, however, is how this process taught me to incorporate disability—in particular, my own disability—into my identity as a scholar of education. Having a disease has profoundly affected who I am, even when I have wanted badly to deny its influence. Erasing its reality (or attempting to create an illusion that I am able-bodied) hides too much of me.”

A commentary she derived from her dissertation was published by Columbia University’s "Teachers College Record" last November.

College of Education and Human Sciences
Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education