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May 18, 2007

A sign of the times

From: DePaulina, IL - May 18, 2007

After three students' hard work, American Sign Language will now be offered as a course starting this fall

by Michelle Stoffel
Staff Writer

Starting this fall, students will be able to take courses in American Sign Language (ASL).

The 25 spot class filled up within three and a half days of fall registration. If it were not for several DePaul students proposing the class this past winter, though, ASL 101 would not exist.

For a public speaking class, sophomore finance and real estate student Luba Pollock wrote an essay about her experience as a camp counselor. She had a hearing-impaired camper in her group, and felt that since so few people at camp new ASL, nobody could fully communicate with her.

When professor Laura Hartman of the management department assigned her business ethics students a project which would positively affect the community, Pollock knew exactly what to do. She teamed up with fellow students freshman Omar Shakar, juniors Michael Rissman and David Merritt and senior Vaishal Patel to propose ASL classes at DePaul.

"Do you know how long it takes to propose a class?" Hartman initially questioned. "But not only do they now have a class on the books, it [the class] has a three-part series and a class structure."

Despite restrictions on time and effort in researching, proposing and implementing the classes, the group felt DePaul and the surrounding community would benefit from these courses.

ASL is the fastest growing language in the U.S., increasing by 400 percent between 1998 to 2002. There are currently less than 30 schools across the nation that offer majors in ASL. In the Chicagoland area, Harper and Columbia colleges and the University of Chicago offer courses.

The group began by interviewing representatives from these schools, which got them in contact with Deaf Communication by Innovation (DCI)—a deaf owned and operated local business which works toward improving communication between deaf and hearing people through advanced technology.

"DCI let us know that from experts points of view, DePaul is a prime place for an ASL program," said Rissman, a junior management student.

Mark Johnston, chair of the modern languages department, was brought in as the group’s proclaimed ‘right hand man.’ After proposing the idea for the courses to him, Johnston took the idea to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dean Charles Suchar was interested in the idea and thought it was certainly possible as long as students were interested in the course.

The business ethics group decided to set up a table in the Student Center at Lincoln Park and start a petition. In three and a half hours, the group had gathered over 300 signatures.

Not only were students interested, but they discussed related stories of friends and families who deal with the issue of being hearing impaired every day. Due to the overwhelming response, the courses were accepted in a short amount of time.

"I do believe that it is an important way to satisfy the needs of a subset of the population using formal instruction," Suchar said. "We are a sufficiently large enough college, with a modern languages department broad enough in scope that adding languages as they are deemed important make a great contribution to people’s education."

After winter quarter ended, Rissman, Pollock and Shakar have remained extremely dedicated to the project and only plan on continuing this way.

"Her class was over and done, but we weren’t done," Rissman said.

Despite their success, the group is still concerned with sustainability.

"We’ve got to keep people hyped for years to come," said Shakar, a marketing and business administration student.

Pollack encourages students who are passionate about an idea to recommend it to the administration.

"If students really want something that the university doesn’t offer, come up with an execution plan and get it done," Pollock said.

Hartman expressed her pride in her students efforts.

"I can require something of a student, but when this requirement becomes something a student can own and care about on their own—that’s really thrilling," Hartman said. "This is only one example of the many really important contributions students have made. There’s so many creative ways students have decided to have an impact."

For more information about the course, contact Shakar, Rissman or Pollock at

© 2007 DePaulina