WASHINGTON, D.C. | From a young age, T. Alan Hurwitz wanted to use his deafness as a positive influence on students who share his disability.
That desire came to full fruition and now, the Sioux City native will retire after a career in education that spanned more than 40 years. On Dec. 31, he will step down as president of Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private college in Washington, D.C., that is a world leader in education for deaf and hard of hearing students.
Hurwitz, who assumed the position in 2010, is just the third deaf president in the history of the 1,560-student university that traces its roots to 1864.
The first deaf president, I. King Jordan, was appointed in 1988 in the wake of a Deaf President Now revolt that shut down the campus. A large student uprising protested the decision by college leaders to hire a president who was not deaf.
“It was the dream of many influential and visionary leaders before me who realized that Gallaudet needed to have a deaf president,” Hurwitz said in an interview conducted by email, adding he is the university's first president who was born deaf. "Gallaudet is a truly special place. There is no other place like it in the world.”
Born to deaf parents with a dream for their only child to receive an education, Hurwitz succeeded despite encountering several obstacles along the way.
Through a job as a Sioux City Journal carrier for more than four years, he was able to save up enough money to buy his first car, a 1949 Chrysler Coupe. A scholarship from the Journal allowed him to pay tuition at Morningside College.
As a student at Central High in Sioux City, Hurwitz stayed on schedule with his schoolwork without the help of an interpreter, a notetaker or tutor. He spent nights rereading textbook lessons learned that day.
Hurwitz said he had a dream of teaching deaf students. However, encouragement from his parents and an aptitude in math and science led him to pursue a degree in engineering.
Hurwitz fulfilled his first two years of pre-engineering at Morningside before transferring and earning a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, and eventually a master's degree from St. Louis University. He also received a Doctor in Education in curriculum and teaching from the University of Rochester.
But the urge to help deaf and hard-of-hearing students stayed with him, even after five years at McDonnell Douglas Corp. – now Boeing – in St. Louis.
“After five years … that old dream of being a teacher resurfaced and I realized that higher education was my true passion,” he said.
He began his career teaching engineering and computer science at the recently established National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), in Rochester, New York.
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His tenure there led to administrative roles, including as president of NTID before he was appointed president of Gallaudet.
Throughout his career in education, Hurwitz said he was able to connect with students with backgrounds similar to his and see them thrive together.
"There is a strong sense of community and belonging students experience," he said, "and I really enjoy seeing students learn about themselves and become more confident in their abilities."
His involvement with the deaf community extended beyond educational services. Hurwitz said he was an active member in multiple organizations, such as the National Association of the Deaf and the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities.
He also served on the Federal City Council, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and Maryland-D.C. Campus Compact, among other non-deafness-related organizations.
Hurwitz’s career, coupled with his determination and passion for guiding students, has earned him praise both from Gallaudet and back home in Sioux City. Hurwitz and his wife, Vicki, were named honorary members of the Gallaudet University Alumni Association during homecoming this year.
Earlier this month, Hurwitz was recognized by Mayor Bob Scott and the Sioux City Council with a resolution commending him for his service and congratulating him on his retirement. The proclamation was read at his retirement ceremony earlier this month in Washington, D.C., by Alicia Spoor, a Gallaudet graduate who is married to Sioux City native Josiah Dykstra.
Gary Lipshutz, a classmate of Hurwitz's at Central High, helped coordinate the reading of the commendation.
"He's helped a lot of children through the years that are dealing with challenges," Lipshutz said, "and to see someone who came through the Sioux City school system to achieve what he did is an inspiration."
The resolution stated Hurwitz “has become a role model to emulate … and has set a standard of excellence towards which others may strive.”
Hurwitz said the recognition from his hometown reflects the pride he feels as a representative of his native state.
"It’s my hometown and although I’ve been away for many years, the city still holds many memories for me," he said. "I think that if my parents were alive today, they would be especially proud that my hometown has recognized me and my work through the years."