The sign language interpreter program at Tyler Junior College will celebrate its 20th year of ASL training this May.
Department Chair of Sign Language Interpreting Rhonda McKinzie said the local community in Tyler and surrounding areas is larger than one may expect, but also the need for interpreters is high.
"There is a huge need locally, statewide and nationally for certified interpreters and qualified interpreters because there's just not enough. We are trying to meet that need with our program, but it's not easy," Mrs. McKinzie said.
According to Mrs. McKinzie, the two-year program is challenging and not everyone can do it. Mrs. McKinzie admits a lot of students going in think it will be an easy course, but once they step foot into the ASL 1 class, they become nervous or scared because the professor is deaf and there is no talking allowed.
"Everything is done is gesture, or writing on the board and they start learning sign through immersion. They are forced to learn how to communicate within the deaf culture," Mrs. McKinzie said.
ASL professor Laura Hill has been teaching in the deaf education program for 20 years. Shortly after moving to Tyler in 2010, she became interested in the opening for an ASL professor at TJC.
"I thought, oh it's time … I love teaching at the college level because the students really want to learn," said Hill through an interpreter.
Hill admitted she prefers students learn the foundation of sign language instead of starting them off with the ABCs. Instead of the ABCs, Hill teaches her students something that will help them further their ASL education needs on the first day.
"I feel like the ABC's are simple and they can learn that on their own. I start with the basics like the 5 WH … who, when, where, why and how," Hill said.
The ASL program at TJC will be celebrating its 20th year at 6:30 p.m. May 12 in the TJC Apache Rooms for the local deaf community and TJC Alumni. Tickets are available for $15 per person and reservations are recommended but not required.