Areas of Study

Gallaudet’s JumpStart Program helps ensure academic success and social well-being on Kendall Green for incoming first-year and transfer students by offering components in American Sign Language (ASL) and Academic Success.

One program introduces students not only to ASL, while the other focuses on honing students’ math and English skills. Both programs teach students about Gallaudet history and traditions, deaf awareness, and deaf culture through classes, hands-on activities, and nighttime dorm activities.

This year’s ASL program runs from July 15 to August 21 and has 41 participants, and during the same period, the Academic Success program has 48 participants.
Students in the Academic Success program enroll on the recommendation of the University’s Admissions Review Committee or by teachers. Students in the ASL program decide to participate on their own, understanding that it is in their best interest to do so, since gaining exposure to ASL before the start of the fall semester means fewer less need for ASL instruction at New Student Orientation.

Although each program has a different focus, the students share what they have learned with one another, said Darian Burwell, director of the University’s Student Success Program, which oversees JumpStart. “We encourage students from both tracks (ASL and math/English) to talk with each other because they share the same experiences and backgrounds,” Burwell said.  For example, this year’s Academic Success program has a student from China who met two other Chinese students taking the ASL program, and all three became friends. “It was nice to see them connect with each other,” Burwell said. She added that other international deaf students are fluent in English and are learning ASL, and a late-deafened U.S. Army veteran joined the ASL program as well.

Gallaudet faculty and staff teach the courses during the day, but student peer counselors run the nightly activities, Burwell said.  After class, students from each program become acquainted by engaging in pastimes such as designing their program T-shirts and doing Bisonlympics–games where students can compete while learning more ASL and about each other through physical activity.  Additionally, all students from each program go on sightseeing trips and enjoy theme-nights like communicating through gestures only or have an ice cream social.  “We teach the students the importance of learning about diversity, how to embrace diversity, and to be patient with each other,” Burwell said. “College is all about learning something new.”

Furthermore, the students are part of the Personal Discovery Program, a team-building course run by the Physical Education and Recreation Department. Burwell added that the students learn how to work together, but learn problem-solving skills by taking the course. Sarah Doleac, an assistant professor of physical education and recreation, said that the Discovery Program increases self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall well-being.  “The Personal Discovery Program helps students bond and develop cohesiveness by taking part in the many different individual and group activities,” Doleac said.

Discovery helped Kallissa Bailey from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, ’14, when she was in the 2011 JumpStart Program. “As I looked at the brand new faces of this year’s JumpStart students, I remembered my days in the program,” said Bailey, who is now a Personal Discovery instructor and president of Gallaudet’s chapter of the Psi Chi Honor Society. “Two years ago. I was nervous and unsure about my signing skills, and I remember feeling relieved that I was receiving over a month’s worth of a head start to learn my way around Gallaudet and D.C.”

Andy Tao, Student Success specialist, said that although the JumpStart program itself is five weeks in duration, the University continues to give students the support they need to ensure their success. “If an issue [with students] shows up during the academic year, we develop a strategy to solve the problem, like scheduling interpreters through the Gallaudet Interpreting Service, tutoring, mentoring, or using real-time captioning,”  Tao said. He added that his office tracks JumpStart students until they graduate by examining their midterm and final grades every semester. If their grades fall below 3.0, Tao calls them in to investigate causes and mentor them to develop new strategies to overcome obstacles such as poor time management and personal issues.

Tao also supervises 12 undergraduate peer counselors and interns who work with JumpStart students. “The peer counselors really believe in our program and want to contribute to the success of JumpStart students,” Tao said. “Our mission is to teach our students to engage, to learn, and to succeed at Gallaudet.”  Radoslava Slavova of Scranton, Pa., ’15, captain of Gallaudet’s cross country team, agrees that this is a winning formula. “I was like a caterpillar when I started JumpStart–new to the world. As I gained knowledge and wisdom, I grew and developed into a butterfly, the person who I am today–a leader.”

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