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ASL Immersion Week brings students to St. Kate’s

Undergraduate students from across the U.S. participate in ASL Immersion Week at St. Kate's in June.
Undergraduate students from across the U.S. participate in ASL Immersion Week at St. Kate's in June.
Photo by Melissa Kaelin

Students from across the United States flocked to St. Catherine University in June for ASL Immersion Week, a silent week of education and interaction using American Sign Language (ASL).

The undergraduate students took courses on classifiers, idioms, words with multiple meanings and medical vocabulary, studying with deaf mentors and two instructors — Elizabeth Beldon, a professor at Bethel College in Indiana, and Nigel Howard, a professor at Douglas College in British Columbia.

“ASL Immersion Week brought 40 ASL students from around the country to St. Kate’s,” said Richard Laurion, project manager for the CATIE Center at St. Catherine University. “They’re in advanced ASL classes in the morning, and we take them out into the community in the afternoon where they apply the language that they learned in the morning.”

During the week of June 6-10, students resided in the dorm halls on the St. Paul campus of St. Kate’s. They attended accelerated courses in American Sign Language and ventured out to Twin Cities attractions to practice ASL, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Mall of America and Como Zoo. Each day ended with a social skill-building activity on campus.

“The way it’s designed, it is rather unique,” said Laurion. “There are several immersion programs around the country — and some much longer — but none that pair ASL language mentors with ASL immersion students.”

Faculty from St. Catherine University and other institutions trained 11 deaf adults to serve as ASL language mentors for students participating in ASL Immersion Week. The deaf mentors took three days of training with Elizabeth Beldon, Nigel Howard, Jimmy Beldon and Elizabeth Bonni — all members of the deaf community — and joined the students when the immersion program opened in June.

The Deaf Mentor Training is an intensive skill development program provided to train mentors to work with language learners, and provide constructive feedback and assessment. When the ASL Immersion Week students arrived at St. Catherine University, the mentors joined their classes so that they could see exactly what professors were teaching and reinforce it in the afternoon community activities.  

Organizers also added a new feature to ASL Immersion Week in 2011. After pairing each student with a deaf mentor, they asked both the student and the mentor to stay in touch for a period of six weeks after the immersion experience concluded. Students were required to spend one to two hours communicating with their mentor via videophone each week.

Program builds connections

Laurion said ASL Immersion Week takes students beyond the academic aspects of sign language. To be successful conversing in ASL, students also need to be able to apply what they have learned in terms of grammar and visual communication. By providing deaf mentors to students, ASL Immersion Week gives students a chance to improve their ASL skills while at the same time forming connections in the deaf community.

"One of the biggest challenges with our ASL students is getting them connected with the deaf world,” said Laurion. “We have to create opportunities for them to use their language and to start building those connections with future deaf friends, colleagues, acquaintances. That’s one of the opportunities provided here.”

ASL Immersion Week is sponsored by the CATIE Center, one of the six centers under the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers. The limited-space program is open to undergraduate students across the U.S. who have completed the ASL 4 course.

“Every year, we’ve had Katies involved,” said Laurion. “Our hope is that they have a greater confidence in their skill and they have a greater competence to take a step up.”

St. Kate’s students serve the deaf-blind

Students in the ASL interpreting program at St. Catherine University are keeping busy during the summer, as several students applied to be a part of the 24th American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB) Symposium June 19-24 in Fort Mitchell, Ky.

In order to volunteer as support service providers for this national symposium for the deaf-blind community, students were required to submit an application to AADB. Three students were selected from St. Kate’s to volunteer at the symposium.

The students spent two days en route to the symposium, volunteering their services and receiving training on how to work with members of the deaf-blind community. They volunteered in the areas of orientation and mobility, acting as sighted guides and interpreters, and returned to St. Catherine University after the symposium concluded. 

June 22, 2011 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Liberal Arts, Social Justice, Students