Two 2012 PSU commencement speakers chosen from GSE graduates

Emily Coleman, MS (VIL) ’12, and Jacob Sherman, MS (LSE) ’12, are polishing commencement speeches for PSU’s June ceremony at the Rose Garden. Both were chosen for compelling and entirely different success stories at PSU. Ms. Coleman is a graduate of the Visually Impaired Learner program in the Department of Special Education and Mr. Sherman has completed a Leadership for Sustainability Education master’s degree.


Emily Coleman, is graduating with an MS from the Visually Impaired Learner (VIL) program. She has a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and also holds a teaching certificate. Her interest in the VIL program began when her son, Eddie, was born blind.

“He was the first blind person I had ever met,” she said. “I knew he would need special help.” She decided to learn how to help her son and many others like him who would need her skills. She started this online program while living in Montana, but now lives in Eastern Washington. She completed the majority of the program at a distance, except for a two-week summer intensive on campus.

“Emily is one of those awesome people who is a natural teacher, advocate and friend,” said Professor and VIL Director Jim Bickford. “Her ability to find the best in her students is well recognized, while being an exceptional educational partner, collaborator, and consensus builder.”

Ms. Coleman was the 2011 recipient of the Maron Endowed Scholarship and is now a teacher of the visually impaired for Washington State School for the Blind, serving nine school districts that work with children ages 3-21.

PSU’s VIL program serves to fill a critical shortage of professionals in the blind and vision impaired field across the country. The PSU program is the only one of its kind delivered at a distance.


Few students can say that they’ve had a significant environmental impact on the university, but Jacob Sherman, who led the Take Back the Tap Campaign, is responsible for eliminating bottled water consumption on PSU’s campus.

He started the Sustainable Drinking Water Task Force to promote the safety and drinkability of campus tap water. The group was awarded a $38,000 grant to launch a communication campaign, sell reusable water bottles and install hydration stations around campus so that students could refill rather purchase bottled water.

The Leadership for Sustainability Education program has afforded him opportunities to do research, obtain grants, publish, present and conduct workshops on sustainability issues. His personal philosophy, “dare to fail,” has provided him with fearless leadership in the field.

“Jacob is an educator at heart who truly exemplifies sustainability education in his teaching, which is relational, creative, participatory, and engaged in making change,” says Professor Heather Burns, who directs the LSE program. “Jacob has already made a big impact in sustainability work at PSU and no doubt will continue to play a pivotal role in this community.”

Jacob Sherman has won numerous accolades inside and outside PSU, including Student Employee of the Year for 2010-2011; Oregon Student Employee of the Year Award 2010-2011 from the Western Association of Student Employee Administrators; an Oregon Laurel’s Scholarship, and a Ronald E. McNair scholarship.

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