Towson University Faculty/Staff News • May 5, 2004

Sign of the times

Deaf studies is one of TU's fastest-growing undergraduate majors

In 1999, when Sheryl Cooper wrote the prospectus for TU's deaf studies major, she thought the fledgling program might enroll 30 students by this spring.

She was off by more than 100.

To Cooper's surprise and delight, the deaf studies major quickly turned into one of the university's hottest draws, with 134 students enrolled.  

"That's down from 185 a year ago," she says, "when we graduated about 50."

Cooper describes the major, offered by the Department of Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology, and Deaf Studies (as of July 1) as an academic discipline intended to increase understanding of the more than 70 million people worldwide who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Majors, both deaf and hearing, leave the program with a mastery of sign language and critical insight into deaf culture.  

She attributes the program's surging popularity in part to the fact that it's the only one of its kind in Maryland and one of relatively few in the United States.

When prospective students key ‘deaf studies' into a search engine, Towson's name pops up,” she adds.

“We have a very diverse group,” she says of the majors. “Some come directly from high school. Others are sign-language interpreters in their 30s or 40s who want to earn bachelor's degrees.

“It's a good mix,” she continues. “Those who have worked in the field provide a real-world perspective for the younger, less experienced students."

A sizeable number of deaf studies alumni are enrolled in master's or doctoral programs, while others interpret or enter fields where their knowledge and skills are in high demand.

Cooper and Kimberly Pudans-Smith comprise the full-time faculty, with assistance from a couple of part-timers and some members of the department faculty. “With a very small faculty, it's difficult to accommodate everyone who's interested in this field” she says. “Right now the deaf studies courses are restricted to majors—we haven't the resources to offer them as electives.”

Still, there's no doubt that TU's deaf studies program has been enormously successful. “The word is out that this is a fun and marketable major,” says Cooper. “And it shows no signs of slowing down.”


Story by Jan Lucas/Photo by Kanji Takeno




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