Outreach specialist selected as 2016 Outstanding Educator of the Year

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RUSTON, La (Louisiana Tech) - Sheena Manuel, an outreach specialist for Louisiana Tech University’s Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB), has been selected as the 2016 Outstanding Educator of the Year by the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.

Manuel’s work for the PDRIB led to this honor and her immeasurable contributions to educating blind children at public schools in Webster, Lincoln, and Bienville Parishes, and helping them to develop life skills such as reading braille and personal orientation and mobility. The PDRIB, founded in 1996 and housed in Louisiana Tech’s College of Education, was originally established to create the first non-discriminatory program in equipping people interested in teaching cane travel and braille to blind students.

“This has been the most challenging year of my career so far, but this award lets me know that the people who matter the most appreciate my time, talent, and efforts to change what it means to be blind and to ensure that kids know blindness is a nuisance, but not a defining characteristic,” said Manuel during her award acceptance speech.

“I am only the educator I am with the help of my team at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness, Dr. Ruby Ryles, and all the blind people I have met here and at national convention who continue to tell me their stories and dreams for blind children. It’s also with the help of my students and their families for allowing me to fight for their rights to a free and appropriate public education, and my family and friends who continue to support my dreams and believe that I can change the world.”

Manuel’s service and advocacy for blind children have included helping to coordinate monthly activities that often take place on the weekends for children and their families, which she led along with other staff members of PDRIB and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. In November 2015, she was also chosen to be a part of an exclusive cohort of teachers from around the country for training in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields specifically for blind and visually impaired children.

“Sheena is beloved by everyone who works with her,” said Dr. Edward Bell, director of the PDRIB at Louisiana Tech. “The children she teaches love her, the families depend on her, and all of us respect her tremendously. Sheena, without a doubt, is one of the best things we have going on here at PDRIB.”

Manuel has earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a master’s degree in teaching from Louisiana Tech. She also earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix and holds a National Certification in Literary Braille, a National Orientation and Mobility Certification, and a National Certification in Unified English Braille.