Learn about how I pivoted and pursued a second Bachelors in ASL Interpreting

My Journey: A Second Degree in ASL Interpreting

Many people know I obtained my first Bachelor of Arts Degree in Integrated Marketing Communications with two minors, Spanish and Creative Writing. I went to UNC Wilmington where I not only learned the ins and outs of successful marketing communication and strategy, but also how to surf, play ultimate frisbee, and run Track and Field. I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to go in my professional life (at 21, we all know who we are going to be and what we will do, right? *wink*

After graduating a semester early in 2011, I moved to Charlotte where I tried to find my footing in the corporate world with my first ever job with an impressive pay check. I was a data analyst, far from anything I studied in college, but it allowed me to move to a new city, pay my bills, and explore different interests and learn more about myself. I also moved closer to a big group of friends I made in college, so I still was able to go out at nights, live the solo life, and have fun!

But this didn’t last long. Soon I found a strong desire to try something else. My day-to-day became a blur and my fulfillment meter was crashing low. My heart was somewhere else, and I knew I needed to make moves to pursue something else…

Blonde girl smiling holding a sign that has hands spelling out Graduation Day in ASL.

My WHY

My mom’s story is a beautiful one that often wows people. To keep it short and sweet (and to encourage you to meet her and ask her to tell it), I will start off by saying she worked with the deaf and hard of hearing for over 25 years as a speech pathologist and itinerate teacher. She was fluent in sign language, a form called Pigeon, a mix between solid ASL and Signed English. In 2010, she was diagnosed with MELAS (Mitochondrial Disease). After multiple stroke-like episodes and seizures, she developed Aphasia as well as lost a great deal of her ability to hear. To communicate with people for a while, she had to write things down… or sign. I knew basic signs at the time but I was frustrated with my self for not learning more. I knew in order to keep communicating fluidly with my mom, I needed to learn ASL.

After she got better and a few years passed, I found myself in NC. But being in NC while my mom was in MD struggling with a new diagnosis and progressive hearing loss, I was having a hard time being so far away. I wanted to be closer, and I wanted to find a way to communicate with her better. My mom is and has always been my best friend, biggest cheerleader, and rock in every tough situation. I felt a strong pull to step away from my good-paying job at the time and pursue another opportunity that would allow me to be closer to family and study ASL so I could communicate with her better.

I knew I didn’t want to half-ass it either. I wanted to be fluent. I wanted to be able to communicate with her and to understand the intricacies of the Deaf/HoH world from the view of an ally.

two blonde women smiling and hugging

How I got started

Growing up in central Maryland, I had a huge advantage, being close to a number of educational facilities that offered at LEAST basic ASL education for hearing people. I lived ten minutes from Maryland School for the Deaf, a strong foundation in the local D/deaf community. The area is home to a strong and thriving D/deaf community that was flourishing with a rich culture and impact on the people in the town. I started attending meetups with members of the D/deaf community at a local coffee shop where I would sit awkwardly and try to sign my name. I watched most people around me signing and conversing about their day and describing themselves to new attendees. I didn’t know hardly any signs, but I wanted to immerse myself in the community and culture first and foremost. I knew I needed to learn OUTSIDE the classroom and respect the culture first before I started learning their language.

After a few meetups, I started making friends and they helped me learn a few different signs each meeting. By the end of a few months, I learned a few sentences and was able to communicate at the most basic level. Next, I needed to find a classroom to learn.

Where I obtained the degree

First, I’ve gotten questions from people who are interested in learning ASL where they should get their “degree” but know there are a number of options out there! For me, it was important for me to look into becoming an interpreter for a potential career shift, as I had seen my mom struggle to find interpreters in her medical journey and I wanted to be a part of that solution.

I started off obtaining my ASL Certificate (required as a pre-req for interpreter education). I finished this out at Frederick Community College in Maryland. Once I obtained this, I moved towards becoming an interpreter by enrolling in the program at The Community College in Baltimore County (CCBC). Finally, to reach graduation with a BS in ASL-Interpretation, I completed the last semester thorough an online program through Williams Woods in MO and a local internship in Frederick. This took four years total and a large sum of my savings. But it was worth it to receive my second degree in 2018.

There are multiple routes you can take. A few include…

  1. ASL Certificate- This is typically 2 years at an accredited education facility that gets your basic understanding of the language and then sends you on your way. Great if you don’t think you want to pursue a full career involving ASL but more-so a conversational level to interact with your friends and family.
  2. Deaf Education – Typically, this is for people who want to become teachers with the skills to educate students who are D/deaf or hard of hearing, using methods like sign language and specialized curriculum. This can take 4-8 years.
  3. Speech Pathology- Assesses and treats speech and language disorders in people of all ages. This typically takes eight years, requiring a BA and then a Masters Degree.
  4. Interpreting- Bridges the communication gap between D/deaf and hearing individuals by translating spoken language into sign language and vice versa. This typically takes four years for non-signing individuals. It may take less if you are already fluent.

How you can start learning ASL

  • Immerse Yourself in Deaf Culture: Watching signing videos online or on TV, attending events for the Deaf community, and even befriending Deaf people are all great ways to immerse yourself in Deaf culture and improve your understanding of sign language. The more exposure you have to sign language, the better you’ll become at understanding and using it yourself.
  • Take Sign Language Classes: Enrolling in an in-person sign language class is a structured and effective way to learn. These classes are offered at community colleges, adult education centers, and local D/deaf schools. You’ll benefit from a qualified instructor who can provide feedback on your signing and answer your questions kinginterpreting.com
  • Use ASL Apps: There are a number of ASL apps available that can help you learn signs and practice your fingerspelling. These apps can be a great way to supplement your learning or to get started on your own. Some popular options include ASL Pro, Marlee Signs, and SignSchool.
  • Take Online Lessons: Several online platforms offer ASL courses that you can take at your own pace. These courses typically include video instruction, quizzes, and practice exercises. This is a flexible option for people who have busy schedules or who live in areas where there aren’t any in-person classes available. www.classcentral.com
  • Join a Sign Language Group: There are many sign language groups that meet up regularly to practice their signing skills and socialize. This is a great way to meet other people who are learning ASL, get feedback on your signing, and improve your conversational fluency. Look for groups online or in your local community.

ASL In My Life Now…

While I am not currently interpreting, I still use ASL everyday. I love to use it while listening to music. I use it to communicate with my mom and a few of my friends from back home. I teach it to my nephews who are learning to communicate with their Nonni (my mom). I also interpret for family/friends at personal events.

I am so thankful I took this route. It opened so many doors, like being able to communicate with my mom. I gained some of the most influential friendships of my life. This opportunity was one I knew I needed to grasp when I could. Curious about creating your own opportunities? Read my blog post, Stop Waiting! Start Creating Your Own Opportunities!

Interested in learning more about ASL and how you can learn more? Send me a message! I’d love to chat!

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My Journey: A Second Degree in ASL Interpreting

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