Deaf education professor ‘loves to laugh’

Mark Rust believes ASL is pathway for being an ally to the deaf community

By Rachel Hooper

If you hear laughter in the halls of McDaniel College’s Academic Hall, you’ll probably find an unlikely source, a professor who often teaches in silence using American Sign Language.

The man with a great sense of humor is Mark Rust, assistant professor of education and coordinator of the Graduate Program in Deaf Education. “I just love to laugh,” said Rust.

The Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies, Sherri Hughes, says of Rust, “What stands out about Mark is, first of all, his good humor,” adding, “It’s not uncommon to hear Mark’s laugh throughout the hallway and the building.”

Jessica White, a grad student in Deaf Education and English Secondary Education who worked for Rust said, “He’s very family-oriented; he’d talk about his mom in class and his daughters.” Rust explained that he recently cared for his mother in his home for two months while she was dealing with cancer. He has two daughters, Lauren, 21, majoring in Special Education at Pfeiffer University, and Amy, 19, who is a sophomore Art Studio major at McDaniel College. One of Rust’s major interests is hiking and camping, which he shares with his wife, Dottie.

“As far as football, I’m a Wisconsin person, so I’m always rooting for Green Bay,” said Rust.

This native of Milwaukee became interested in deaf education because his parents were deaf. He attended the University of Northern Colorado, where he got his undergraduate and graduate degrees. Rust began teaching in 1981 at the Maryland School of the Deaf in Frederick, MD. He taught for 22 years, teaching both elementary and high school before coming to McDaniel in fall 2003. Rust hopes to finish his PhD in adult education from Capella University this year.

Not only is Rust a teacher, father, husband, and the coordinator of the Graduate Program in Deaf Education at McDaniel, he is also an advocate for deaf students. Rust prefers to say, “I just try to be more of an ally (Rust signed the word ally); the main thing we do in our program is empower people to be an advocate for themselves or to be an ally to the deaf community.”

As an ally for the needs and rights of deaf students, Rust’s passion is to get deaf students a language that they can understand, so they can get an education that will broaden their horizons.

“It’s valuable; it’s also edifying; it raises their self-esteem,” said Rust.

Rust says he’s “into theatre” and directed high school plays at the Maryland School of the Deaf for 17 years. One anecdote he tells about himself occurred while he was working as a deaf interpreter. “I do theatrical interpretation down in Washington, D.C. and [I] almost knocked over [former Vice President] Walter Mondale.”

What do people who have worked with Rust think of him? Secretary Dorita Dorm said, “He’s a very caring person, always helpful, and always makes time for students.”

White describes him as, “Friendly, welcoming, inviting; someone I can talk to and ask any question I need, not standoffish at all.” She thinks he has made quite an impact on campus interacting with both undergraduates and graduate students. “Everyone feels comfortable going to him,” said White.

Janet Conley, associate coordinator of Deaf Education, describes co-worker Rust as “compassionate, enthusiastic, and having just all-good qualities.” She feels Rust has had a significant impact at McDaniel, having developed and implemented a first-year seminar course called Education and Life Experience of Deaf People. He was also a major contributor to the program change for using American Sign Language to meet the language requirement at the undergraduate level.

Rust’s boss is Dean Hughes, who says of him, “He’s full of energy. He’s the kind of person that always has a new idea or new project that he’d like to get started on…. He’s very warm and welcoming to all kinds of people.”

Hughes particularly commends Rust for his ability to help people see a different perspective or point of view. She said, “Through that kind of leadership he encourages both his students and his colleagues to do the same, so I think he brings us all little closer together.”

Can Rust have all of these good qualities and a global vision, too? He admits that he has traveled to some very distant parts of the world, including participating in mission trips to Africa working with deaf children. He has traveled to Zimbabwe and twice to Kenya. Happily, he’s bringing his international experience to McDaniel by organizing a January term trip to work with deaf children in the Dominican Republic.

Rust is also involved at the national level. He serves as co-chair of the National Language Planning Committee for Deaf Education, a group trying to put together standards for what should be taught to deaf children linguistically in ASL and to develop a curriculum for K-12 students.

What does Rust envision for the future of the deaf community at McDaniel? He refers to his love of the theatre when he answers, “I have a hope that someday we would be able to have an undergraduate mixed with the graduate theater troop that would do theater in sign and bring deaf awareness to the state.”

Professor Conley sums up McDaniel’s appreciation for having Rust on campus by saying, “There are so many positives that he brings to the school and to the program…We are very pleased that he’s here. We hope that he stays for a long time.”