Headed by Director Dr. Ted Supalla and Co-Director Dr. Elissa Newport, the American Sign Language department at UR aims to teach ASL as a liberal arts program. It provides opportunities for clusters, minors and majors.

According to Supalla, those interested in actively learning and practicing ASL as both a language and a culture would be well served to either minor or major in it. Clusters, however, do provide intensive training in the language. “We encourage a cluster of three language courses,” Supalla said through his interpreter Patty Clark. “This would provide more than just basic survival skills, such as asking for directions.”

As a deaf member of both the City of Rochester’s community as well as the UR community, Supalla employs Clark as his interpreter. Along with being the director of the ASL program, he is an associate professor of Brain and Cognitive Science and Linguistics. In fact, many courses are cross-listed between these three departments.

Along with Supalla and Newport, there are two senior lecturers who teach advanced courses in ASL as well as five part-time faculty members. Anyone interested in a cluster, minor or major in ASL is required to meet with the undergraduate advisor, Dr. Rebecca Webb.

“Probably the best part about the program are the professors. All of them go out of their way to make themselves available to you and they really want you to work hard and succeed,” ASL Events Coordinator and senior Liz Lachapelle said. Lachapelle is a double major in psychology and ASL and hopes to combine her two interests in her future career.

The ASL program involves the students in more than just attending classes. Approximately every other Friday afternoon from 3 to 4 p.m.,students have the opportunity to attend an ASL forum, usually held in Dewey 101. “For these forums, they often bring in speakers from the deaf community,” senior and ASL Club President Karen Jones said.

Over Meliora weekend, the forum consisted of a panel of alumni who took ASL in college. One of the judges included a pioneering student who wanted to study ASL and essentially had to create his own major. He created an independent study involving lunch with Supalla once a week back in 1989.

The ASL Club provides assistance to new students and holds social events. Every first Thursday of the month, the club attends ASL Night at the Comix Cafe. “We promote sign language and events that bring the deaf and hearing communities together,” sophomore and ASL Club Vice President David Mener said.

Jones came to UR specifically for the ASL Program. “It is one of the only schools that focuses on ASL as a language and a culture. It also provides a good basis with which to go on to grad school,” she said. She hopes to use her ASL skills as a children’s librarian.

Other possible career options open to ASL majors include work in very diverse areas, such as interpreting, science work, social service and community service, according to Supalla.

In addition to programs just for students, the ASL program sponsors events open to all. Last weekend, they invited a deaf Hollywood actress, Terrylene, to speak.

“It allowed our students to see a sign-master at work crafting her trade,” Supalla said.

They are planning another major event for April where Supalla’s brother, Sam Supalla, a well-known storyteller, will speak. As of now, there is no set date.

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