Tiece Ruffin, associate professor of Africana studies and education at UNC Asheville, has been named a winner of the prestigious UNC System Board of Governors’ 2020 Award for Excellence in Teaching. Ruffin, who is also the interim director of the Africana studies department, is known for her dedication to diversity, inclusion and equity in education, both in the United States and around the world.
“The University of North Carolina Asheville is very lucky to have an engaged community member and dedicated professor like Dr. Ruffin,” said UNC Asheville senior Kelli Spivey. “You will not find many students who have not benefited from her presence on our campus. She shows compassion towards her students yet holds them to the highest standards at the same time. I would like to think that I have become a better student, community member, and future educator because of her and her classes.”
“During the nine years that I have known and worked with Tiece, her level of commitment to students, colleagues, and community is unlike anything I have witnessed during my time at UNC Asheville,” said Kim Kessaris, the education department outreach and AVID tutoring coordinator at UNC Asheville. “As a faculty member in the Department of Education, Dr. Ruffin coordinated numerous projects, such as instituting a lecture series that brought several nationally known scholars to campus… Dr. Ruffin coordinated our department’s efforts to internationalize teacher education, and she regularly leads students on study abroad programs in Ghana and in South Korea.”
Ruffin’s efforts outside of the classroom magnify the effect of her work inside the classroom as a teacher, Kessaris said. Evelyn Chiang, professor of psychology at UNC Asheville, agreed.
“Her teaching portfolio demonstrates a significant, passionate commitment to developing future educators who will focus on student success with an eye on welcoming and engaging with equity, learners from diverse backgrounds and with diverse abilities,” Chiang said. “Her teaching philosophy reveals a critical thinker who regularly studies differing educational structures and approaches, and who considers how to incorporate them in her antiracist pedagogy.”
Ruffin also brings community engagement inside the classroom. “Tiece centers her courses around the community—especially the intersection between community and schools. As do many of us in the Education Department, she requires her students to do field work in her courses. However, she goes beyond what most of us do,” said Reid Chapman, senior lecturer in education. “Her students get a deeper experience working with students and their families. She pushes her students beyond the theory to see it in practice.”
For Ruffin, being an excellent teacher means connecting with students, and engaging in authentic and experiential learning. “Being an excellent teacher means being a responsive, equitable and inclusive teacher,” Ruffin said. “It is inculcating a sense of optimism by highlighting the challenges in our quest to create a more just and equitable society while modeling a vision where our human potential is without bounds.”
Ruffin melds her roles as an educator of tomorrow’s teachers, as a parent, and as an active citizen of the community. She was awarded the Fulbright Scholar grant for 2017-18, which afforded her the opportunity to teach and conduct research in special education in Ghana. In 2019 Ruffin was awarded a $10,000 public service grant by the U.S. Department of State to implement a public service project in Ghana as a Citizen Diplomat.
In Asheville she has served on many local boards, including those of Asheville City Schools Foundation, the Asheville City Schools AIG (Academically and Intellectually Gifted) Advisory Board, and as the faculty advisor to the University’s Black Student Association. She currently serves on the boards of Read to Succeed Asheville, UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education, Francine Delany New School for Children, and the Buncombe County Community Engagement Office Isaac Coleman Grant Review Committee. She also is an educational consultant and has led professional development offerings for the YMCA of Western North Carolina, Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, Yancey County Schools, Western Region Education Service Alliance (WRESA), Project MARS/AmeriCorps, and AmeriCorps NC via the NC Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service.
Ruffin has authored a series of guest columns in the Asheville Citizen-Times to mobilize community action on issues of social justice in education, and authored a book chapter in the Handbook of Research on Effective Communication in Culturally Diverse Classrooms (IGI Global, 2016). She has also co-authored publications with international collaborators, including an article for The Reading Matrix: An International Online Journal with Florence Mensah, UNC Asheville’s fall 2019 Fulbright African Research Visiting Scholar.
Past accomplishments include two notable fellowships: the prestigious honor of being selected as a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar in the U.S. Department of Education and as a Past-President’s Fellow of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Ruffin was named a 2016-17 North Carolina – West Education Policy Fellow by the North Carolina Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), and was the fourth recipient of UNC Asheville’s Community Connector Award.
Ruffin received her Ph.D. from Ohio University in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in special education and cognate in reading education, and she received a B.S.Ed. and M.Ed. from Ohio University in special education, with an emphasis in learning disabilities and intellectual disability; and in secondary education, with an emphasis in reading education.
The UNC System Board of Governors Award is now in its 26th year. Established by the board in 1993 to highlight the importance of teaching, the award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of faculty members System wide. The recipients, who represent all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, were nominated by special committees at each institution and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs.