of the times
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
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,”
“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
“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
Story by Jan Lucas/Photo by Kanji Takeno
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