ROWLEY — Earlier this May, Samantha Smith was among seven students who graduated from Framingham State University with bachelor’s degrees in American Sign Language English-interpretation.
“I grew up in Rowley,” Smith said, “graduated from Triton in 2005, and I tried doing some classes at North Shore and UMass, but I just couldn’t get into what I was studying, so I took some time off and got a job at a bank.”
Growing up, Smith had a friend whose mother was an interpreter, and she had always found deaf culture interesting. So when she was offered a promotion at the bank she knew it was now or never.
“Originally, I thought it was only a part-time, two-year program, and then I found out it was a full-time, four-year program. Which meant I was going to have to quit my job, and really dedicate all my time to this program,” she said.
“And it was honestly the best move I ever made. You can’t do a program like this in only two years. It was still a lot to do in four, but it was such a great experience and I loved it.”
Northern Essex Community College and Framingham State University partnered to do this four-year program, allowing students to take classes for their associate’s degree at the Haverhill campus of Northern Essex and then they could go on to Framingham State for their bachelor’s. But in order to even get into this program, the colleges had to know that the individual was serious about wanting to become an interpreter.
“You had to get either a B or better in all preliminary evaluations and screening tests to move forward in the program,” Smith said. “They had to know that you were serious about wanting to take this program. We were also like the guinea pig class where they tested out everything on us for the future classes and got to see what worked and what didn’t.”
After students graduate from the program, they go on to take the state level Massachusetts Interpreter Screening Test, where they can then go on to take the national level test, so they can be certified everywhere. The class is still meeting regularly to practice their signing and keep their memories fresh. Many are finding work already in the deaf community and continuously immersing themselves in the deaf culture.
“I don’t think people understand that the deaf community really does have its whole own culture, and how different each culture is depending on the location,” Smith said.
“Their diversity is no different than ours would be, and their language, grammar, and even dialect to a point is totally different everywhere.”
Along with learning how to sign and interpret, students learned a lot about how deaf culture differs from ours and is a whole culture all of its own.
“Deciding to get my degree was the best thing I’ve done,” Smith said. “In five years I hope to be certified for the deaf and hard of hearing.”