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ASL and Interpreting department celebrates 30 years

Former faculty member and poet Cara Barnett returns to campus Nov. 15-16.
Former faculty member and poet Cara Barnett returns to campus Nov. 15-16.
Photo supplied.

The American Sign Language (ASL) and Interpreting program at St. Catherine is celebrating 30 years with the return of former faculty member and poet Cara Barnett for two days of events.

St. Kate’s is one of just five schools in the nation to offer an accredited bachelor’s degree program in interpreting and the only interpreter education program in Minnesota accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education.

“We have to thank our founding mothers, our outstanding faculty, our students and our alumnae for the success of our program,” explained program chair and assistant professor Paula Gajewski-Mickelson. “This is a celebration of who we are, and there are so many people who have helped this program thrive. It takes a village to make this work, which is why we are thankful for the collaborations we have in the deaf community. We look forward to celebrating with all of them.”

Celebration features entertainment and workshops

The department will celebrate its anniversary Nov. 15 and 16 with a poetry performance and workshop as well as entertainment on the University's St. Paul campus. Participants can register for some or all of the activities, with online registration available. 

Friday’s ASL poetry performance will feature Cara Barnett, an ASL instructor and noted ASL poet. Barnett’s performance, titled “I Sign. Therefore I am!” will take place at the Jeanne d’Arc Auditorium on November 15 at 7 p.m. Guests are invited to a social following the performance from 8:30-10 p.m. at Chatterbox Pub in St. Paul for a chance to reconnect and share memories.

Saturday’s events begin with a workshop by Cara Barnett called “Going Beyond ASL Poetry.” In the workshop, Barnett will teach about ASL poetry and its rules, and to understand it as an art form. The workshop will take place in Mendel Hall room 106 from 9 a.m. to noon. Following the workshop, a luncheon in Rauenhorst Ballroom will be held from 12:30-2:30 p.m. The celebration will conclude with entertainment by the Beldon Gang from 2:30-4 p.m., also in Rauenhorst Ballroom.

Innovation key to program growth

The program began on the Minneapolis campus in 1983, and was an associates degree program until 2000 when the program moved to a bachelor’s degree program. 

“We have worked hard to go above and beyond the standards to make sure our students are well-prepared for a career in interpreting,” said Gajewski-Mickelson. “We are always looking for ways to enhance the student experience, incorporate the newest technology, and be innovators in the field. We have a strong and robust program.”

The St. Kate’s interpreting program took a leap forward when it received federal funding through the U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration to lunch the CATIE Center in 2005.  The CATIE Center leads the national initiative on healthcare interpreting through training for interpreters working in medical settings, skill development resources, a healthcare interpreting website, deaf self-advocacy training, and intensive seminars. The CATIE Center gives the St. Kate’s interpreting program a national presence.

“We have such high-quality faculty and programming,” said Gajewski-Mickelson. “Previous to opening the CATIE Center, we had a reputation as a strong program regionally, but the CATIE Center put us on the map nationally. Our reach is far.”

As professional limitations for the deaf have disappeared, the standard has been raised for ASL interpreters. The skills and knowledge required of interpreters go beyond ASL in today’s professional setting. St. Kate’s has positioned its graduates well, with a well-rounded background that gives them a strong understanding of not only ASL but industry terminology and jargon useful in a variety of work places.

Gajewski-Michelson notes, “Our graduates are leading and influencing in all areas of society. They are serving on national committees, working in the Minnesota Legislature, and even interpreting at the White House. We teach them to be allies in the deaf community, not in a patronizing way, but as people who respect the deaf as members of a minority culture instead of handicapped or disabled individuals. We’re proud of our program and our graduates.”

Nov. 13, 2013 by Sara Berhow

See also: Liberal Arts