Success at Hand
THREE DECADES AGO, WHEN ST. MARY’S JUNIOR COLLEGE launched an ASL/interpreting program, the job of translating spoken English into American Sign Language was only beginning to be professionalized nationwide.
In typical Katie fashion, the program’s founders stepped in to fill a gap. They offered training in medical interpreting so Deaf students at St. Mary’s — which merged in 1986 with the then–College of St. Catherine — could take healthcare courses traditionally taught only to hearing students.
“For a large part of the history of our profession, St. Kate’s has been there,” says Paula Gajewski Mickelson, department chair and assistant professor of ASL/interpreting. St. Catherine’s department has grown along with the profession, moving from a two-year associate’s program to a four-year bachelor’s degree. (A master’s program currently is under discussion.)
St. Kate’s is one of only nine universities or colleges in the nation to offer an accredited bachelor’s degree program in interpreting. The program’s five full-time faculty members, three of whom are Deaf, are recognized as leaders in their field, and their research and publications have great influence in the national Deaf community.
Accolades aside, Gajewski Mickelson and her colleagues insist that their proudest accomplishment is the department’s graduates.
“This is a committed bunch,” Gajewski Mickelson says of the ASL/interpreting alumnae. “They know that they aren’t signing up for an ordinary job. In our program, students learn that to be an effective ASL interpreter, you have to make a commitment to working with the Deaf community, to taking leadership roles in service and advocacy.”
Serving as an ASL interpreter requires a commitment to working within a specific, marginalized community. Deaf people are members of an independent culture with unique traditions and language (which is one reason why they capitalize the word Deaf). The vast majority of ASL interpreters are hearing, which demands sensitivity and understanding of a culture other than their own.
And, because full-time jobs in the profession can be hard to come by, ASL interpreters often work freelance, requiring entrepreneurial leadership skills to build successful careers.
“Our students respond well to the St. Kate’s commitment to social justice and educating students to lead and influence,” Gajewski Mickelson says. “They usually relish the opportunity to be in charge of their careers. You can see it in their professional success.”
Meet five recent ASL/interpreting grads, young women making their mark on the profession.
Anna Saindon Carter SP'06
Staten Island, New York
Coordinator, Resource Center for the Deaf, CUNY-Staten Island
When Anna Saindon Carter decided to move to New York, she had a job practically waiting for her.
“When I decided to move out here, I e-mailed a few places asking if they were hiring,” she says. Within a day, Carter got a response from the City University of New York (CUNY) in Staten Island asking her to apply for a job. “They were impressed that I had a bachelor’s rather than an associate’s degree,” she says. And they were impressed with St. Kate’s history in the profession.
Once she had settled in the city, Carter landed the job — which requires her to hire, supervise and schedule 15 ASL interpreters who work with Deaf students at the university.
Carter has been interested in a career in ASL interpreting since high school, where she studied the language in church and at school. She earned an associate’s degree in ASL interpreting at Gateway Technical College in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and then transferred to St. Kate’s to complete her Bachelor of Arts.
“I felt like I needed more than two years to learn this very complex, visual language,” Carter explains. In addition to her CUNY job, she’s also completed an ASL interpreting program for live theater at the prestigious Juilliard in New York. Carter has landed several interpreting gigs for on- and off-Broadway shows.
“New York is full of interpreters,” she explains, “but because of the faculty at St Kate's and the reputation of the program, my degree has been a great benefit to me.”
Ready to Work
Quincy Craft Faber SP'09
Diploma in hand, Quincy Craft Faber left St. Catherine ready to start building a successful career as an ASL interpreter. Her first step: Earning her National Interpreter Certification, a hurdle she cleared immediately after graduation. The certification is required for all professional ASL interpreting jobs, and most St. Catherine alumnae eventually earn it.
Craft Faber credits St. Kate’s with her burgeoning career as a full-time interpreter in private practice. “The stellar faculty and curriculum of the ASL/interpreting department provided me the means to develop the language and interpreting skills necessary to succeed,” she says.
The program’s emphasis on community involvement also helped Craft Faber make personal connections in the Twin Cities Deaf community. She still turns to that network today for job recommendations and referrals for interpreting jobs.
“While a student at St. Kate’s, I networked with seasoned interpreters in the field who subsequently became my colleagues,” Craft Faber says. She also volunteered at Deaf community events, spending time at the Charles Thompson Memorial Hall, a social hall and meeting place in St. Paul for the Deaf. The experience helped her understand the cultural complexities of facilitating communication between Deaf and hearing people. She also made good Deaf friends.
Collaborative research with Gajewski Mickelson also helped Craft Faber’s transition into the profession. In October 2012, the duo presented “Developing Ethical Competencies: ‘Training’ Interpreters to be Ethically Fit” at the national convention of the Conference of Interpreter Trainers in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A Capital Success
Jinah Williamson SP'08
Staff interpreter, TCS Associates
ASL interpreters are taught to keep a low profile, unobtrusively facilitating communication between Deaf people and the hearing world. So Jinah Williamson was shocked to learn that during one interpreting gig, her image would be projected on a “huge” video screen before a large audience. “A translator’s not supposed to be the star of the show,” she says ruefully.
But this particular gig was no typical job. A staff interpreter for the Washington, D.C.–based translation firm TCS Associates, Williamson had been called to the White House to translate a speech. She didn’t learn until she got there that she would be interpreting for First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden, who were speaking about helping military spouses transfer their professional licenses across states.
“It was an amazing opportunity,” she says, and her professionalism and focus have paid off. Williamson has been accepted into her firm’s competitive legal interpreting mentorship program, with a goal of expanding her practice to include courtroom translation.
The St. Paul native credits her mentors at St. Kate’s with giving her the confidence, credentials — and contacts — she needed to gain a foothold in her adopted community.
“I firmly believe that the foundation I have from St. Catherine is the reason I’ve been so successful here in D.C.,” Williamson says. “I was given these opportunities because of the people I knew at St. Kate’s.”
Julie Olson Rand SP'08
Freelance interpreter and adjunct faculty member, St. Catherine
Julie Olson Rand never wanted a 9-to-5 office job. But she did want to earn a decent living. So after completing a bachelor’s degree in studio art from the University of Minnesota, she decided to enroll at St. Catherine and earn her degree in ASL interpreting.
“Before signing up, I talked to Laurie Swabey,” Rand recalls. The longtime ASL/interpreting professor described a typical career of an ASL interpreter — a combination of part-time contracts working for a range of clients and employers. “That was really appealing to me,” says Rand, who has stitched “about five part-time jobs” into a fulfilling career.
She works half time as an ASL interpreter for Deaf patients and medical personnel at Allina Health Systems. Another 10 hours a week, she serves as an ASL interpreter for Z Video Relay Service in Little Canada, Minnesota, a service that helps Deaf people communicate with hearing people remotely, in real time, over video telephones. She also interprets for area colleges and universities on a freelance basis. And she teaches as an adjunct at St. Kate’s.
In hindsight, Rand appreciates that faculty members encouraged her to get involved in the department’s popular ASL club while she was a student. “Before St. Kate’s, I never considered myself a leader,” she says, “but Paula [Gajewski Mickelson] saw it in me, and before I knew it, I was becoming a face for this program.”
Today, Rand volunteers for local Deaf organizations, building trust among people in the community. “I love the freedom and independence this career gives me,” she says. “I'm never bored, and I feel like the work I do is making a difference in people's lives.”
The "Harvard Card"
Ginger Thompson SP'06
Ginger Thompson began her college career at the University of Minnesota–Duluth, where she majored in computer science. Intrigued by the ASL classes she was taking, she researched interpreting programs in Minnesota.
A few years after earning her degree in ASL interpreting from St. Kate's, Thompson packed up her car and headed west, looking for adventure — and work. Even as far away as Olympia, Washington, her credentials carried special significance.
“If I mention in the Deaf community out here that I went to St. Kate’s, everyone says, ‘Oh, aren’t you fancy?’ They know St. Kate’s and have worked with our graduates. They are really impressed by my degree.”
Olympia is the capital of Washington, and much of Thompson’s interpreting jobs involve the workings of government. Though she came into town with no connections, Thompson has credentials, ready translation skills and professional certification that have helped her build a strong client base among influential leaders in the local Deaf community.
Should her wanderlust kick in again, Thompson is confident she’ll find interpreting work elsewhere. “In the national Deaf community, saying you graduated from St. Kate’s is like playing the Harvard card,” she says. “People who are in the know give it a lot of respect.”
"In the national Deaf community, saying you graduated from St. Kate's is like playing the Harvard card."
— Ginger Thompson SP'06