Starting this fall, the University of Kansas Edwards Campus will offer degrees in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, in partnership with Johnson County Community College.
Conversations about this program between the University and JCCC started years ago, said Stacey Storme, professor of interpreter education at JCCC and a new professor of practice for the KUEC degrees.
"We've always wanted to have a partnership with the University of Kansas,” Storme said.
The program includes four tracks: deaf studies and social justice, advanced ASL, becoming an interpreter, and professional interpreting.
Storme said the deaf studies and social justice track is particularly exciting because it will be open for students who aren’t fluent in ASL.
“One of the biggest things is looking at deaf people through a cultural-linguistics lens, rather than a disability lens,” Storme said.
The professional interpreting track hopes to appeal to people who may already be working as interpreters but want to expand their skills, said Shannon Portillo, assistant vice chancellor of undergraduate programs for the Edwards Campus.
“A number of people that we think will be attracted to this degree are people who have already gotten an associate's or are already working as interpreters, but really want to professionalize and have some advanced education in interpreting," Portillo said.
JCCC has one of the oldest ASL programs in the country, according to Storme. One of the reasons it wanted to partner with the University is because students now need a Bachelor of Arts degree in order to be nationally certified interpreters.
"What I’ve seen from KU Edwards is just being willing to look at what we have to offer and realize it is an emerging field,” Storme said. “Even though we have a lot of history, it's still emerging as a profession and as a field of study instead of as a vocation, because that's where our roots are at JCCC."
Previously at JCCC, students took classes in ASL and interpreting at the same time in order to graduate in two years. One of the benefits of the new program is that students will be able to focus on language proficiency before learning how to interpret, according to Storme.
"It almost parallels the medical profession,” said Kimberly Kuhns, an associate professor at JCCC. “If you have a student who wants to become a doctor … do you really want a doctor to perform surgery on you who only had a two-year training program? It's the same concept with interpreting.”
Students who pursue this degree can either take their first two years of courses at JCCC then transfer to the University as a junior, or take ASL classes at the University’s Lawrence campus and move to the Edwards Campus to finish their degree, Portillo said.
"Students will have a much more effective experience,” Storme said. “I think they'll be able to succeed more … because it was tough to come into [JCCC’s] program, and the only way we could get folks to be able to graduate and get some interpreting work was to push them really hard.”
In addition to undergraduates, the program is also available to graduate students in the form of certificates. Marc Greenberg, director of the School of Literature, Languages and Cultures, said they hope to eventually expand the program to include a master’s degree.
“Ultimately, we hope to offer both research opportunities as well as the possibility of allowing students to explore other deaf cultures of the world outside of ASL,” Greenberg said in an email.
The program will start small with an estimated 10 to 15 students this fall and continue to build, Portillo said.
"One of the things we're really trying to ensure is that this program is embedded within the deaf community in our region,” Portillo said, “And so I do think there will be a lot of outreach and ways we'll be engaging with the community.”