Continuity of Operations planning information for the College of Education: Click here

College of Education > News and Publications > News: 2009 > AILP Alumni Spotlight: Bruce Ramirez

AILP Alumni Spotlight: Bruce Ramirez

by Melissa Gummo (November 2009)

The American Indian Leadership Program (AILP) is celebrating its 40th anniversary. AILP is the nation's oldest continuously operating educational leadership program for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Since the program was founded in 1970, more than 220 American Indian and Alaska Native students have earned master's and doctoral degrees from the program and have gone on to pursue leadership positions at the local, tribal, state, and national levels. To celebrate this milestone, the College of Education is profiling alumni and students of the program.Ramirez.jpg

Bruce Ramirez was a teacher with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico when he learned about the opportunities to earn graduate degrees in education through the American Indian Leadership Program (AILP) in the Penn State College of Education. Ramirez and his wife soon moved to central Pennsylvania so he could earn his Ed.D. in Educational Administration from Penn State.

The AILP attracted Ramirez because of its emphasis on being an agent for change and improvement. The program “encourages students to take classes in other disciplines, which enables students to pursue other areas of educational leadership,” said Ramirez. “The faculty members within the College of Education are very supportive of students in the program and they encourage students to apply their own experiences in their coursework. Being with students from other tribes is extremely beneficial because there is the opportunity to learn from them and grow.”

Throughout the course of his career, he has worked to be an agent for change, making considerable contributions to advancing educational outcomes in special education. He is most proud of being part of the Native American disability movement and its journey for inclusiveness, social justice and empowerment. The effort ensured that Native American children, youth and adults with disabilities were not left on the sidelines but seized every opportunity to grow and gain a foothold in federal programs benefitting individuals with disabilities.

Ramirez currently works at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), a professional association for special educators, in Arlington, Va. where he started with a yearlong internship sponsored by the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). It focused on educational opportunities for Indian students with exceptionalities served by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and public schools.

In his early CEC career, Ramirez served as the Director of the American Indian Special Education Policy Project, designed to help BIA public and tribal schools comply with national legislation to ensure children with disabilities a free, appropriate public education.

Since 2006, Ramirez has served as the Executive Director of CEC, where he oversees the operation of the Headquarters office, provides program direction, and coordinates the association’s strategic direction. He served in CEC’s public policy program during implementation of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as during the enactment of other significant special education legislation. Ramirez has also directed the association’s professional development, national ERIC clearinghouse, cultural diversity initiatives, and annual convention and expo.

“BIA special education and early intervention funding, professional preparation programs for Indian special educators, tribal demonstration projects, parent training and information projects, vocational rehabilitation services projects, and rehabilitation research and training centers have all contributed to our capacity to better meet the developmental, educational and rehabilitation needs of Indians with disabilities,” said Ramirez. “Most importantly, we now have a cadre of Indian leaders and advocates to carry this work forward.”

In addition to his work for CEC, Ramirez serves on several national educational planning committees and advisory boards, including the National Center on Response to Intervention, National Center on Educational Outcomes, and the American Society of Association Executives Diversity Committee.

He has authored multiple publications on special education and diversity, and has spoken widely on these and other special education issues. He has also received numerous awards for his accomplishments, including The Pennsylvania State University’s Alumni Fellow Award for Distinguished Professional Service, and many educational organizations, agencies, and institutions have recognized his service.

For more information about the Council for Exceptional Children, visit Additional information regarding the Bureau of Indian Education’s Special Education programs can be found at