PULLMAN, Wash. — Longtime Washington State University education professor Tom Ruff
remembers Gene Sharratt as a student with unlimited potential.
“He was bright and had maturity beyond his years,” Ruff said.
Serving in Vietnam in the late ’60s as an infantry platoon sergeant and paratrooper with the
173rd Airborne tends to age one quickly.
After two years in the Army and a year at Highline Community College in Des Moines,
Wash., Sharratt — a graduate of West Seattle’s Chief Sealth High School — enrolled at WSU,
where he earned a degree in education in 1972. Following graduation, he became a second grade
teacher in Olympia and began pursuing a master’s degree at Pacific Lutheran University. Later, he
returned to WSU and completed his doctorate under Ruff in 1993.
From the beginning, Sharratt viewed a career in education as an opportunity to “give back”
to the community.
“I thought I could provide support and encouragement to many students who were not
finding these important attributes to success at home or in their neighborhoods,” he said. “It was
important for me to convey the message to young people that they were valued, respected and
that someone cared if they attended school each day.”
Earlier this year, Ruff and Sharratt were selected by WSU President Samuel Smith as an
example of the successful mentor-student relationship that exists at WSU. They will be
“spotlighted” and introduced publicly at the university’s 103rd commencement May 8 in the
Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum.
Sharratt’s career in education spans 24 years, including the last eight as superintendent of
the North Central Educational Service District in Wenatchee. He and his team of colleagues work
with 29 school districts in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties. They serve more than
40,000 students in the 12,600 square mile area.
“I thoroughly enjoy the daily challenges of my position,” Sharratt said, “and continue to
look back on WSU as a major reason for our success.”
Ruff joined the College of Education faculty in 1968. During his 31-year tenure, 30 of his
graduate students, including Sharratt, have earned their doctorates at WSU. Before Ruff retires
in 2001, two more students will complete their doctorates under his guidance.
As an undergraduate, Sharratt remembers Ruff as a “stimulating teacher with high
expectations.” He asked divergent, rather than convergent questions which led to “engaging
discussions” in the classroom. “He would challenge your viewpoint in a positive and productive
way. That was refreshing,” Sharratt said.
Early in his career, the WSU alumnus spent two years in Norway teaching first graders at the
Stavanger American School.
“I knew that if I could succeed at that grade level, I could succeed anywhere,” he said. “The
students made sure I didn’t fail. They came to school every day eager to learn. They expected me
to do a good job of teaching.”
Wherever Sharratt has taught, and at whatever level, Ruff’s advice to him comes into play:
Engage students in learning rather than make them passive learners.
“The role of the educator is to facilitate learning,” Sharratt said.
When he decided to return to WSU for his doctorate, it was because of Ruff.
“Under his coaching and mentoring, I knew I would be engaged in a quality learning
experience,” he said. “I was not disappointed. The rigor and relevance of my program was
everything I had hoped it would be.”
While working on his doctorate, he served as Ruff’s teaching assistant, teaching
undergraduate preservice education in the content areas of math, science and social studies.
“He was one of the best (teaching assistants) I had because of his international
experiences,” said Ruff. “Students learned a lot from him.”
Before accepting his current post, Sharratt spent three years as superintendent of the
Chehalis School District. Earlier, he was principal of the Naches Valley Primary School in Yakima
and served the Yelm School District as an assistant superintendent for curriculum and
instruction, his major areas of study under Ruff. His background also includes serving as a high
school career education counselor in Kodiak, Alaska.
Through the years, the teacher and his mentor have kept in contact.
“Tom will call me and ask, ‘Is there anything I can do for you or that the College of
Education should be doing?'” Sharratt said. “I’ve appreciated that.”
On the topic of education, the pair share a similar philosophy.
“Being a teacher is the most important job in the world because you not only must be a
person who can communicate with students, but you also facilitate learning,” said Ruff, who has
won teaching awards from both the College of Education and WSU. In 1997, he was presented
the State of Washington Award for Excellence in Teacher Preparation from Gov. Gary Locke and
Terry Bergerson, state superintendent of public instruction.
Ruff earned three academic degrees from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He is a
graduate of Hammond, Indiana, High School, and is a former teacher and coach at Royerton
School in the Muncie area.