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The 35 pioneers of Gallaudet’s new Master of Arts in Sign Language Teaching Program returned on July 11 for their second summer session, earning six credits over a two-week period.

This master’s degree is a 15-month hybrid program combining classroom and online instruction. The Department of ASL and Deaf Studies previously offered a sign language teaching track within its master of arts degree in deaf studies, but it was taught entirely on campus.

“People told us that they would like to enroll in our sign language teaching master’s degree, but many of them were established teachers who could not relocate to D.C. or pay tuition for a full two or more years to complete it. We created this program to allow more of them to participate,” said Dr. Raychelle Harris, the program coordinator for the new master of arts degree, which allows students to come to campus for classroom sessions during the summer and take online courses during the fall and spring semesters.

More than 100 potential students expressed interest in applying for the 15 available spots. Due to the high interest, the department expanded the first class to 35.

The summer courses are rigorous. With 12 credits over four weeks, students “eat, sleep, and breathe the program,” said Harris.

“Twelve credits can be pretty intense, but fortunately, the ASL and Deaf Studies Department and instructors have been doing a great job to maximize our learning and academic benefit from the program,” said student Ignacio Ponce, who after the session ends on July 22 will return to his post as leader of the American Sign Language program at Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College. “We have access to computer labs, software programs, books, and other materials 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Like Ponce, many of the current students entered the program with extensive experience. “The students are very high-caliber,” Harris said. “Some of them have been teaching sign language for more than 20 years.”
The program is open not only to students in the U.S., or those who teach American Sign Language. Sign language teachers from Iran and Saudi Arabia are planning to apply what they learn to sign language instruction in their respective countries.

Though she does not come as far as the international students, Dyan Kovacs, an adjunct professor at California State University, Northridge, appreciates the hybrid approach. “This program is awesome because it gives the opportunity for out-of-state residents to be able to learn at Gallaudet,” Kovacs said, “and bring it back to their workplaces.”

– Tanya Sturgis, student writer

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