All work and no play: One SOE student’s productive summer

Isa (second from right) with CAST researchers Dr. Carmen Alba, Dr. Grace Meo and Dr. David Rose (Isa’s mentor)

For teachers and students alike, the summer months offer the promise of a respite – a time when reading is picked for reasons of enjoyment rather than assigned, and an afternoon can be spent at the pool rather than in the library. Not all, however, use the months between semesters for purely restful purposes. Summer jobs and internships are a part of the hot months for many, including students here at the SOE.

But as SOE students return to class this fall, few can compare their summer work with that of Ana Isabel  Arathoon (‘Isa’), who is entering her third and final semester as a M.S. in Special Education student.

Isa, on track to finish her degree in just three full semesters with a focus on both early intervention and assistive technology, has big plans for her future, and is wasting no time moving in that direction, even during the  “off’ months of summer.

“My dream is going back to Spanish-speaking countries to revolutionize educational systems so that all students have equal learning opportunities regardless of their learning style or learning differences,” says the Guatemala native.

No small goal, to say the least.

This summer’s step in that direction included a second stint as a research intern at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in Massachusetts, as well as multiple presentations involving that research and its application for educators. Having spent a year at CAST following her undergraduate education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Isa jumped at the chance to return to the northeast and work once again at the research center.

“It was a chance to go back and look at things I had done [in her first stint at CAST], but with the perspective of a master’s-level thinking,” she says.  She took a more active role in the sharing of that academic work, first in presenting work with CAST academics last summer and now with speaking engagements of her own, at events such as the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) and UDL Summer Institute at Harvard.

UDL – Universal Design for Learning – is something near and dear to Isa’s heart and is more than just a chosen path for her career. Isa, who has been diagnosed with both dyslexia and ADHD, struggled as a learner growing up in Guatemala, and views these advances in education as critical to helping others like her thrive in the classroom, particularly those who come from countries with far fewer resources for students with learning disabilities than the United States.

Ana Isabel Arathoon

“In Spanish-speaking countries, there are a lot of antiquated practices and methodologies,” she says. “My goal is to make the necessary changes so we can revolutionize educational systems in those countries, like Guatemala. The key to any of those places moving forward in the world is going to be through education.”

In addition to her presentations this summer, Isa collaborated to organize the first-ever UDL International round table at CAST, a one-day affair that saw attendees from various international locations at the UDL Summer Institute come together to share materials and network with the shared goal of taking the ideas learned at UDL and apply them to their home countries.

That roundtable – which was conceived as a small sub-conference – blossomed to feature many of the UDL attendees presenting their work, so much so that time limits for each presenter had to be allotted in order to include all the speakers on the board. Many researchers who couldn’t attend the conference found out about the sub-conference and decided to use systems like Skype to video in – including some who were doing so in the middle of the night to make up the time difference.

This fall Isa gets right back to business in completing her studies at SOE, while continuing the side work that distinguishes her among both peers and mentors alike.

“[Isa’s] attitude is so incredibly mature and professional,” says Dr. Linda Tsantis – who along with Dr. John Castellani serves as Isa’s advisor in her master’s program. “She uses her experience [as a user of assistive technology] to broaden our thinking and help understand things from the perspective of the learner. She’s an incredible gift from that perspective.”

More than a figurative gift, one of Isa’s plans for the fall is to work with the university’s disability services departments on the use assistive technologies such as Kurzweil 3000 – computer software designed to assist students who have decoding and reading comprehension difficulties. Part of that work will include the gifting of several Kurzweil 3000 licenses that Isa won at the ATIA Cambium Learning Technologies raffle.

Having done a research project about the offices for students with disabilities within JHU last semester, she knows this is a great way to help apply her research passions to the real world. She is excited to work with these offices in the fall to find ways to apply AT tools such as Kurzweil 3000.

“I love to find ways that I can not only write the paper, but execute the research in the real world,” says Isa.  “My plan is to have my dissertation focus on creating  different models and properly assessing them. Because of the experiences I’ve had in my career, I feel like I have what it takes to make a difference and help educational systems implement the changes they need to help all children learn.”

Editor’s note: We are always looking for SOE students to feature for unique work or accomplishments. Please write the communications office at if you know of a worthwhile story to be told

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