Associate Professor, Department of Education
Professors at Millsaps often have extracurricular activities that aid the community, and Dr. Connie Schimmel is one of them. When she is not captivating students' ears in the classroom, she works throughout and beyond Mississippi with teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing or with students with low literacy to give them the opportunity to boost reading skills. She plans to continue her work with literacy programs after she retires from Millsaps this year.
Originally from Dallas, she received a B.A. degree in political science from Vanderbilt University and secondary licensure to teach. Her interest in deaf education was first ignited with a move to California. "I find it fascinating to study how individuals who are deaf learn to read," says Schimmel. "I'm also interested in literacy with students at-risk for academic failure and adults with low literacy skills."
Earning two masters at San Francisco State University, one in Deaf Education and one in deaf/blind education, and a Ph.D. in special education from the University of California at Berkeley, she turned her passion into a professional career.
She has utilized her reading program with at risk students at schools throughout the Jackson area, including students at Oakley Training School. Millsaps' students seeking teacher licensure implement the program as part of their course work. She now coordinates an adult literacy program in the Mississippi Delta, among other regions of the country. Schimmel first partnered with Delta Council, an area economic development organization representing the Mississippi Delta, to begin this program, to begin this program. "The reading program in the Delta has been ongoing for six years. We work with hearing adults who, for some reason or another, did not learn to read," she says. Graduates of the pre-GED program go on to get better jobs, to teach Sunday school classes, or to begin reading to their own children or grandchildren. "Adults tell you what works. Their stories about the program's impact on their lives make me proud to be part of this effort."
The program is simple yet effective. If someone in a community in the Delta sees a need, they contact a Delta Council representative, and then they start a literacy program. These programs work well since they focus on one-on-one education, with only five or six people per 10-lesson program. The average graduate gains three grade levels of improvement in reading comprehension.
In addition to the Adult Literacy program, Schimmel and her colleague, Sandra Edwards, superintendent of the Mississippi School for the Deaf and an adjunct education professor at Millsaps, developed an innovative method to teach reading skills to individuals who are deaf. Their method borrows concepts from American Sign Language to enable deaf readers to make sense of written English, bridging the linguistic gap between the two languages. The method combined with assessment is taught to individuals who work with students who are deaf and hard of hearing and has been implemented in school systems throughout the country.
Schimmel credits Millsaps' students and her colleagues with providing an oasis for life in Mississippi. Her interests in special education support her 24 years of teaching at Millsaps. "I try to share with students with my passion for teaching, especially those for whom reading, for whatever reason, may be more difficult. I didn't plan to teach in a college, but I've enjoyed every minute. The students make all the difference."