Eastern Iowa Community College launches new online American Sign Language interpreting degree | Local Education


Eastern Iowa Community College has launched an online program for American Sign Language interpreting.

EICC is the only college in the state offering a Deaf Studies Certificate and an ASL — English Interpreting associate degree. It launched the online option to provide greater flexibility for prospective students as the need for interpreters continues to grow.

“It’s something that’s desperately needed. There are deaf community members who aren’t getting the education they want or can’t see a doctor when they need it because they can’t get an interpreter,” Diane Roebuck, the program’s instructor, said. “For the deaf community to have access to things, we need the right amount of interpreting.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, interpreter employment was projected to grow 24% by 2030.

“We haven’t been able to meet the needs of Iowa and the surrounding area with just our on-campus offering,” Roebuck said. “Venturing online has been a long time coming. The pandemic made the interpreter shortage worse, but it helped us clarify some things.”

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Roebuck said the online programs gave non-traditional students the flexibility they might need to tackle classes on top of work or other barriers.

“The program is a three-year commitment, and not everybody from across the state can make that,” she said. “A lot of locals are interested in interpreting, but they’ve got full-time jobs. So this is a way to study without giving up those jobs.”

The on-campus program and classes will continue, but all online students must complete in-person residency workshops two days each semester, regardless of their location.

“The pandemic taught us that we don’t want to do ASL classes on Zoom. That’s why we’re going online with the advanced interpreting classes having a residency,” Roebuck said. “It’s a new venture for the college to have this type of program, but having everyone come on campus and be face-to-face is important.”

Online students will practice face-to-face skills with peers and communicate with deaf community members during their residencies. Since these will display how the online curriculum translates to real-life, communicative skills, Roebuck said she’s excited to see how the first one goes.

“What’s really important for our majors is meeting and interacting with the deaf community while they’re still students. So we’re hoping to have guest speakers and people from the deaf community come in and meet students on-campus for residencies,” Roebuck said.

The ASL degree is a three-year program. The Deaf Studies Certificate serves as a prerequisite for the degree, but students can choose to obtain only the certificate.

The certificate teaches enough ASL that students can communicate with deaf community members during their part-time jobs, Roebuck said, so many have used it as a resume pad for customer service positions.

Because of EICC’s rolling admissions, Roebuck said it’s hard to determine how many students will be in the online program until classes start.

“The hope is that we can run the on-campus and online modalities side by side and increase numbers; including the number of students not tied to eastern Iowa,” Roebuck said. “The need for interpreters is so great that graduates have jobs but are absorbed in eastern Iowa … so they don’t even look for jobs throughout the state. The shortage is everywhere.”

Cohort sizes for ASL degrees are typically small, which is a reason Roebuck believes other schools haven’t started programs of their own.

“There’s been a push across the state from the deaf and interpreter communities to get other community colleges or regent universities to implement programs,” she said. “It would be great if we developed a large enough cohort base that other institutions could point to and say, ‘Hey, there’s enough strength to start another program.’”

Recognizing that online school can feel isolating, Roebuck hopes they can build a sense of cohort cohesion.

Through the online modality, students will access assignments and lectures through Canvas, the school’s course management system. DawnSignPress — a leading publisher of ASL and deaf literature, film and software — will provide books and instructional videos to students.

As the academic year approaches, Roebuck looks forward to expanding awareness and undergraduate access to the interpreting field.

“Not many people know the deaf community is around unless they have a reason to interact with them,” Roebuck said. “Interpreters can provide access to a lot of mundane or fun things for the deaf community. It’s a really good career with a lot of variety; you can work in education, businesses, doctor’s offices — any place somebody needs to communicate something important.”

In-state students can take advantage of Iowa’s Last Dollar Scholarship, which covers tuition for both the degree and certification.

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