January 13, 2012

Hamline Student a Member of U.S. Department of Education Commission

ashlee k full

Hamline University junior and psychology major Ashlee Kephart knows how to make a difference. In December, she completed a year-long project with a U.S. Department of Education commission to identify the barriers that impact delivery of instructional materials to post-secondary students with disabilities and to pinpoint technical solutions that could improve these conditions.

The commission was created at the request of Congress in 2009 to gather information and identify solutions for improving instructional materials for post-secondary students. Kephart was one of just two students on the commission, which also included academics, publishers, medical professionals, and several members of the Department of Education. With only 14 months to complete the report, the process was strenuous.

"It was a pretty intense year,” said Kephart. “We met once a month all over the country, though sometimes I would teleconference.”

In person or not, these meetings would last for several days, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Kephart said during these sessions the commission would constantly listen to presentations from experts and absorbing information.

“I was surprised at how detailed all of the discussions were,” said Kephart. “We would have incredibly specific conversations about technology, marketing techniques, legal concerns, and even the wording of our report.”

Kephart invoked her experiences working with children through her charity and her time at Hamline to help preserve student perspectives through the process. She said one of her other goals was to ensure the final report remained as clear as possible so it would actually be useful to other students. Kephart found the entire process illuminating.

“Though I don’t see myself serving another commission,” she said. “I definitely learned a lot about coordinating large groups of people and compromising.”

Kephart is not the only one pleased with the results of the commission.

“Given the growing population of students with disabilities pursuing higher education,” said Dr. Alexa Posny, assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. “This report will be a valuable resource in improving our ability to better serve students with disabilities while also helping more students' complete post-secondary programs.”

In addition to her recent work with the Department of Education, Kephart runs her own non-profit that she founded at age 16, Kids for a Better World, which encourages young people to make a difference through volunteer and educational activities locally and around the world. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Kephart was honored for her work when she was selected to carry the Olympic flame as part of the torch relay in recognition of her work. She was one of only ten teens in the United States chosen for the honor.

For more information on the commission and its report visit the U.S. Department of Education page.