OVERLAND PARK — A unique collaboration between the University of Kansas Edwards Campus (KUEC) and Johnson County Community College (JCCC) will create one of the few bachelor’s degree programs in the United States and the only one located in the Kansas City area for American Sign Language. KU will offer new bachelor’s degrees in American Sign Language & Deaf Studies at its Edwards Campus starting in fall 2019. The addition of the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of General Studies in American Sign Language (ASL) & Deaf Studies will mark the fifth and sixth new degree programs available at KUEC this fall as it continues to expand its offerings to meet the needs of both students and the workforce.
There is a widespread need to help alleviate communication barriers between the robust deaf community and the rest of the world. From schools to hospitals to courtrooms, professionals who are both ASL speakers and culturally sensitive are critical to answer that need. Recently, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) changed the requirements to take the professional National Interpreter Certification (NIC) exam to include the necessity of a bachelor’s degree, including for individuals who already have RID certification. These circumstances helped fuel the decision to meet the demand for ASL degrees.
For individuals with little or no background in American Sign Language, other than undergraduate education such as an associate's degree, the new degree programs are designed to help individuals grow their language proficiencies and cultural literacy and sensitivity.
For individuals with prior education and professional experience or a heritage language background in American Sign Language, the programs will help prepare them for interpretation exams and start or continue a high-demand interpreting career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for interpreters is expected to increase 18 percent by 2026, more than double the average rate of all occupations.
“JCCC’s nationally accredited program is among the first to be established in the United States and has maintained a credible and consistent reputation since the beginning,” said Stacey Storme, professor of interpreter education at JCCC and a new professor of practice for the KUEC degrees. “One reason we have succeeded at maintaining such a solid reputation is because we have continued to respond to the needs and changes of the field. Now is no exception.”
Storme said the national certification change is welcome among ASL and deaf culture educators.
“It is difficult to learn a new language and learn how to interpret it at the same time,” Storme said. “The new four-year degree programs allow students to first focus on the language and hone their communication skills and then move into the intricacies of interpreting using a visual, spatial and gestural language.”
With KU’s ASL degree, students can learn about deaf culture and social justice and be able to communicate with the millions of people in the U.S. who are deaf or hard of hearing. According to KUEC Vice Chancellor David Cook, this is one of the most significant collaborations with JCCC to date.
“We greatly value our continued collaboration with Kansas City area community colleges, including JCCC,” Cook said. “This collaboration allows us to combine the expertise and stellar reputation JCCC has built in the ASL and deaf community over the past 30-plus years with a Research 1 university, offering students a direct pathway to an advanced degree.”
During a recent sabbatical, Storme worked with Shannon Portillo, KUEC assistant vice chancellor of undergraduate programs, and others to compile national and international research on how to design the best ASL program and to make sure students attain pertinent skills and knowledge for satisfying careers. With the new collaboration, students will attend JCCC to complete freshman and sophomore coursework and prerequisites, including foundational fluency in ASL, then head right down the street to KUEC to earn one of two different bachelor’s degrees composed of a choice of four tracks: Deaf Studies & Social Justice, Advanced ASL, Becoming an Interpreter and Professional Interpreting.
“The four tracks are designed to meet students at their current level of education and expertise in ASL and to allow students to specialize in an area that will benefit them most in their chosen career,” Portillo said. “Skill development within these degrees will provide students with a strong foundation in language and cultural education for those interested in fields such as social work, education, legal, medical, ASL/ English interpretation and more. In addition, deaf or hearing, heritage ASL users gain a deeper understanding of their home language and culture while earning a valuable professional credential.”
Marc Greenberg is the director of KU’s School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures (SLLC) that houses the new program, and he emphasizes that ASL study will involve a comprehensive immersion into deaf culture.
“The SLLC is proud to support the Deaf Studies program at KUEC as another language and culture to the 40 languages taught at KU,” Greenberg said. “We appreciate the work Associate Director of SLLC Caroline Jewers, Shannon Portillo and others put in to planning this valuable degree program. SLLC’s strength in languages, embedded in the study of the cultural and historical contexts in which they are used, makes KU a national leader in providing students opportunities to become truly competent citizens who can function in all circumstances, from the local to the global.”
For more information about KU’s new American Sign Language and Deaf Studies degrees, view the ASL program webpage and contact Academic Success Coach Nigyar Alves at 913-897-8556 for a personalized degree completion roadmap.
About the University of Kansas
The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. Its mission is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world. The KU Edwards Campus at 127th Street and Quivira Road in Overland Park brings the high-quality academic, professional and continuing education programs as well as research and public-service benefits of KU to the Greater Kansas City community in order to serve the workforce, economic and community development needs of the region.