New opportunities for sign language majors
By Michael Finch
To create more opportunities for deaf education, Paula Sargent, a sign language interpretation professor, forged an articulation agreement between Miami Dade College and Siena Heights University in Michigan.
The agreement with Siena Heights University will enable students who earn an Associate’s of Science Degree in Sign Language Interpretation to virtually transfer to Siena Heights University, where they will have the option to take online classes or move to Michigan to finish a Bachelor’s of Applied Science for Sign Language Interpretation.
When the Florida Registry of Interpreters for the deaf decided to raise the standards for sign language interpreter certification to require at least an associate’s degree, Sargent planned to help students exceed that standard by creating an opportunity for students to gain a bachelor’s degree, which is required to attain national certification.
In Florida, there are only two universities that offer a bachelor’s degree for majors related to sign language: the University of South Florida and the University of North Florida.
For many students who don’t want to relocate, the only option is to attend a local university and major in something unrelated to sign language-just for the degree.
Sargent says that she wanted to create this as an option because “in every school you can’t please all the people all the time.”
“Our program tends to appeal to older students, and they can’t pick up and move, or they don’t want to move,” Sargent said.
Currently enrolled in the program are around 50 declared majors of sign language interpretation, according to Sargent.
After watching a friend perform a song in sign language at John A. Ferguson Senior High, 19-year-old Estefania Sarraff said she fell in love with signing, and immediately began buying books to learn American Sign Language.
Now she is in the sign language interpretation program at the North Campus.
“I like that you’re building a picture, and it’s so deep, that’s something that English doesn’t have,” Sarraff said. “In sign language everything is so clear, and it makes me feel really smart.”
As a field in constant need, sign language interpreters can be paid from $10 to $50 an hour-depending on their level of certification. Sargent said that some of her students leave the program and make almost $100,000 in a year.
In an attempt to innovate her students’ education Sargent says she wanted to accomplish two things, to get a state-of-the-art sign language lab, and to find a way to get students a bachelor’s degree in sign language.
She has succeeded with both.
After competing with many other departments in the college for a portion of a Carl Perkins grant, the program received $214,000 for a sign language lab.
The sign language interpretation lab was inaugurated in September 2009, in Room 1364 of Scott Hall (Building 1).
The lab features 20 computer workstations equipped with web cameras and several uploaded sign language videos.
“Interpreters need to have their education in check,” Sargent said. “A better educated person is going to be a better interpreter.”
Paul Edwards, the North Campus’ director of a comprehensive center for exceptional student services (ACCESS), said that their department uses as many as 12 sign language interpreters every semester, and “it’s absolutely crucial” to have a highly skilled interpreter.
“We’re overjoyed that students in the program can deepen their education level, and have access to a higher education,” Edwards said. “It’s one of the few two plus two programs that are available.”
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