New Living Learning Community Will Focus on American Sign Language, Deaf Students

photo from informational meeting

Boasting one of only nine nationally accredited baccalaureate degree programs in American Sign Language and Interpreter Education, Eastern Kentucky University has for many years attracted deaf and hard-of-hearing students as well as those who want to serve and assist them.

Now, students from both groups have another reason to consider the Richmond campus: a residence hall living-learning community devoted to American Sign Language and deaf culture. Beginning this fall, the first two floors of eight-story Walters Hall will house a population comprised largely of deaf students, those who grew up in a deaf culture, and students majoring or minoring in interpreter education, deaf education or deaf studies. It’s the first such living learning community at a Kentucky college or university, according to Nickole Hale, associate director for academic initiatives with University Housing.

“This will give students an inclusive common ground where communication is not an issue,” said Dr. Laurence Hayes, chair of EKU’s Department of American Sign Language and Interpreter Education (ASLIE). “Because one of the outcomes is learning a way of life, it will help build bridges and create strong bonds not only in the residence hall, but all across campus.

“Anytime you can take a language to a larger platform, it’s a great experience for the students, and that experience will generate interest and curiosity about the University, our program and the language.”

The only pre-requisite? Hearing students will need to have completed American Sign Language 102 and demonstrate a basic competency in ASL, as all members of the living learning community will be expected to use ASL in the hallways and other common areas. The new living-learning community will house approximately 40 students on each floor – one floor for males, the other for females. The community will also include computer and language labs and other related services, and will benefit from on-site workshops, seminars and other presentations led by EKU faculty and staff and others.

“It will have a huge impact on recruiting,” Hayes predicted. “It’s a strong selling point.”

Hale noted strong support from ASLIE faculty and staff, half of whom are deaf.

“This living learning community will succeed because they are so interested,” she said. “All our residence hall living learning communities (this will be the University’s 15th) that have strong faculty backing are highly effective.”

EKU’s Interpreter Training Program, established in 1989, is one of approximately 40 such programs nationwide and is one of only nine baccalaureate degree programs nationally accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education. Hayes noted that the program has a 95 percent retention rate, as well as a 95 percent job placement rate.

“There continues to be a growing demand for interpreters,” he said, “so the job market is strong.”

Interpreters find employment in various settings: educational institutions, government, business, and the legal, medical and mental health professions, as well as personal (weddings, funerals, reunions, etc.)

All candidates for national certification as interpreters must hold a bachelor’s degree in the field. Currently, 21 students from a variety of states are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in interpreter education at Eastern, and an additional 275-300 are taking ASL classes, Hayes said.       

EKU’s Department of American Sign Language and Interpreter Education also has an active outreach in-service training program.

For more information about the program, visit www.aslie.eku.edu or call 859-622-4966.

Published on February 21, 2013