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January 27, 2006

Augustana adds degree in sign language interpreting

From: Sioux Falls Argus Leader, SD - Jan 27, 2006


January 27, 2006, 2:55 am

Calling it "a great day for Augustana and a great day for the deaf community," Augustana College President Bruce Halverson announced the beginning of a new four-year major in sign language interpretation Thursday, a program that includes a five-year partnership with Sioux Falls-based Communication Service for the Deaf.

The program will use experienced professional interpreters from CSD as adjunct professors. In addition to providing the faculty in the program's early years, CSD will help with some start-up costs for the program, such as a sign language lab.

CSD, a national nonprofit organization, provides a number of different communication options for the deaf and hard of hearing. Many of those services rely on certified interpreters.

First-year courses in sign language interpreting will be available beginning this fall, said Monica Soukup, an assistant professor in Augustana's deaf education department and the wife of CSD Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Soukup. As the program grows during the next five years, Augustana will hire faculty to take over teaching duties from the CSD adjuncts.

New national guidelines for the certification of sign language interpreters will call for a four-year degree beginning in 2012, she said. South Dakota's only other interpreting program, at Southeast Technical Institute, was a two-year program that was recently discontinued.

Benjamin Soukup, who is deaf, said through an interpreter that there is a serious shortage of qualified sign language interpreters nationally.

"It's a huge need," he said, "communities are forced to use unqualified interpreters."

He said the program had the potential not only to prepare many new interpreters, but also to attract some students who hadn't considered it as a career.

"Interpreting as a field is one of the fastest-growing," he said. And the skills and talents that make a good interpreter are ones that many traditional courses of study don't emphasize, such as sophisticated communication skills, physical and mental endurance and rapid cognition.

Sign language courses also fulfill the school's mandatory language requirement, Halverson said.

"Students see this as a real career opportunity," he said. "Sign language and Spanish pack them in."

Monica Soukup said the goal was to pack in eight to 12 students annually in the program. Each year, the school will add another year of coursework. She said some of those might eventually come from Augustana's deaf education major. Even before the announcement Thursday, she said, she'd received calls from students who had gotten wind of the new offering.

"A lot of times (students) finish their fourth ASL course and say 'I want more!' " she said.

Reach Nestor Ramos at 331-2328.

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