By Hillary C. Wright, student news writer
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – A handicap of any sort could deter anyone from achieving success. Such is not the case with Jennifer Harris. Harris was born without one of the five senses to humans – hearing — and she has worked with her loss to her advantage.
Being born deaf, the 20-year-old has proven that anyone can be victorious, no matter the circumstances. Harris audited a Campbellsville University summer session course as an American Red Cross Instructor Candidate and earned her national certification in Basic Water Rescue and Small Craft Safety.
CU is the only place in Kentucky to earn this certification. Harris earned her certification after completing a week-long course, which has been described as very intense. Harris is the first deaf student to become a certified instructor in this course at Campbellsville University.
“It’s just really nice that as a deaf person, I can teach the deaf,” said Harris. “It will be nice to have a teacher for them.”
Harris was raised in Danville, Ky., by her parents, who are also deaf — Archie Harris, a retired teacher from the Kentucky School for the Deaf who taught math and other subjects, and Barbie, an art teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf. Harris also has two brothers, Chris, also deaf, who is a pastor in Oklahoma City, Okla., and Jeff, who has his hearing, and is a pastor and interpreter in Elizabethtown, Ky.
Aside from auditing a summer course at CU, Harris, a 2006 graduate of the Kentucky School for the Deaf, is a full-time student who will start her junior year this fall at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Harris is pursuing an art history degree.
Founded in 1864, Gallaudet University is the only university across the globe in which all of its academic programs are designed and intended to provide the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students. Hearing students are also accepted.
Harris also traveled to Sweden during her senior of high school and stayed in the country for nine months, which she said she did out of her curiosity and for the challenge. I did things [there such as studying] their sign language, and writing and reading,” she says. I also visited the old town of Stockholm, visited the king and queen’s castle, and other castles.”
Harris said she likes the CU campus and said the people are very friendly. “When I first got on campus here, I saw that it was a very nice campus,” she said. “It’s like Gallaudet. I’ve noticed that there are really warm people on campus.”
When Harris came for the June summer session, she was accompanied by Brenda Prescott. Prescott volunteered in the course as an associate instructor/trainer, who taught alongside Dr. John Mark “Doc” Carter in American Sign Language.
Both Carter and Prescott are American Red Cross Instructor Trainers in Basic Water Rescue and Small Craft Safety. Prescott is also a full- time teacher at the Kentucky School for the Deaf where she has known Harris for quite some time. “Jennifer was always a good student,” said Prescott, “and very studious.”
Carter said he enjoyed having Prescott as a co-instructor. “It’s really unique to have Brenda signing as I teach,” says Carter said. “It’s really cool how it all fits together.”
Harris said her disability was not an obstacle in the Basic Water Rescue and Small Craft Safety course. “I’m with the hearing class, [so] I knew what to expect,” she said.
Carter, professor of recreation and aquatics at CU, said being able to teach Harris has been “the opportunity of lifetime,” one that he will never get back again.
“Although I have taught American Red Cross Instructor courses for 30 years, and have taught academic adapted physical education courses in Red Cross since 1980, and have worked with all different types of handicaps, I’ve never had the opportunity to teach a person with the qualities and combination of skills that Jennifer has,” he said.
“She loves the water, and she loves paddling. She’s very intelligent. She understands English and American Sign Language well. She has a wonderful enthusiasm for learning, and a positive attitude.”
Carter said Harris’ Red Cross nationally certified instructorship will be a great asset to the hearing impaired community not only in Kentucky, but also nationally.
“She will be the first instructor to have the opportunity to teach other deaf students from elementary to the university level, in addition to members of the deaf community at large,” Carter said.
Carrie Anderson, a student at CU and the mother of Josh Anderson, dean of student services, opened up her home for Harris and Prescott to stay for the week-long course. “Jennifer is an amazing young woman,” Anderson said. “She’s very independent, and she’s sure she can do anything she puts her mind to. It’s been fun getting to know her.”
Carter said the course, the program, and his opportunity to teach Harris would not have been possible without the support of the people of CU.
“Of the four universities that I have taught in my academic career, Campbellsville University’s administration, along with President Michael Carter, Frank Cheatham and Connie Wilson, have been the most supportive and encouraging, and by being encouraging, they have made this program possible,” said Carter.
Harris plans to graduate from Gallaudet University in 2010, and shows no signs of slowing down. With her art history degree, Harris says she wants to pursue architecture. “I might even teach at a school,” she said.
Campbellsville University is a private, comprehensive institution located in South Central Kentucky. Founded in 1906, Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has an enrollment of 2,405 students who represent 98 Kentucky counties, 25 states and 36 foreign nations. Listed in U.S.News & World Report’s 2008 “America’s Best Colleges,” CU is ranked 22nd in “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the South and eighth in the South for “Great Schools, Great Prices.” CU has been ranked 15 consecutive years with U.S.News & World Report. The university has also been named to America’s Best Christian Colleges®. Campbellsville University is located 82 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., and 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky. Dr. Michael V. Carter is in his tenth year as president.