Market Driven, Mission Focused

Market Driven, Mission Focused

St. Kate’s strives to close gaps in communication and health equity — and in the job market — with two new graduate programs.
By Pauline Oo

When it comes to academic development and innovation, St. Catherine University always asks two pertinent questions of new program proposals: “Are we meeting the needs of today’s marketplace?” and “Are we fulfilling and sustaining the mission our founders established more than 100 years ago?”

Two brand new master’s programs — the Master of Arts in Interpreting Studies and Communication Equity (MAISCE) and Master of Public Health (MPH) in Global Health — prove that the answer to those questions has been, and always will be, a resounding “Yes.” Here’s a look at why and how.


Advances in education and technology, and a string of laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, are contributing to record numbers of deaf people receiving advanced degrees and entering professions that were previously laden with barriers. Today, for example, deaf lawyers can work for the federal government and in private firms throughout the United States. There has been significant growth in the number of deaf physicians and corporate executives as well.

“The total number of deaf people hasn’t necessarily changed, but the access they have to education and the options they have to be in leadership positions have changed,” confirms Erica Alley, director of the MAISCE program. “So now we need strong interpreters to keep up with this growing population of highly educated leaders in the Deaf community.” In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 46 percent employment growth for interpreters and translators by 2020. The market need is critical — as is a higher level of interpreter education required to effectively meet it.

Prior to the formation of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf in 1964, American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreters did not have a national organization to structure the continued growth of the profession. It wasn’t until 1972 that ASL-English interpreters were offered the opportunity to pursue certification.

“Today, you need a bachelor’s degree to even take the certification test,” Alley says. “There is such a strong need for qualified interpreters with post-secondary credentials as can be seen in the rise in designated interpreters, meaning people who mainly interpret for one person, often in a leadership position.”

Given the burgeoning demand for highly specialized and industry-specific interpreting skills, the master’s degree will soon become the gold standard for leadership in the field. And St. Kate’s intends to take that standard a step further with the MAISCE, by placing a significant emphasis on communication equity — a term that largely means improving the quality of, or access to, information — in increasingly complex systems (e.g. medical, legal, education).

“There are very few master’s-level interpreting programs in the United States at this point,” notes Alley. “Other schools mainly teach the skill of interpreting or pedagogy — how to teach interpreting — but they don’t teach you how to work within systems, like the healthcare system or education system. This makes us different. Our students will have the opportunity to participate in courses that focus on how we attain communication equity in these various situations.”

According to Catholic Social Teaching, all human beings have equal opportunity to reach their full potential. St. Kate’s commitment to communication equity supports this teaching, as much as it meets the University’s social justice-based mission.

Pioneering higher education for interpreters is nothing new at St. Kate’s. In 1983, the University started the first and only interpreter education program in the world to prepare ASL-English interpreters for healthcare settings. It remains one of only 12 universities or colleges in the nation to offer an accredited baccalaureate program in interpreting.

The MAISCE program — online and open to certified ASL interpreters (both hearing and Deaf) — will only cement St. Kate’s reputation in this field.


Remember the H1N1 influenza virus? What about SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that spread to more than two dozen countries? And who can forget the Ebola crisis last year?

“We are completely unprepared to deal with infectious diseases as a global community,” says Mary Hearst, director of the MPH in Global Health. “Our response is slow. It’s sloppy; it’s ineffective. We need a stronger workforce so we can do a better job of addressing these new and reemerging diseases, either before they happen or certainly before they spread, and definitely before thousands die, like they did in West Africa with Ebola.”

The United States alone needs an additional 250,000 public health workers, according to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. This workforce is necessary to dodge a range of pending threats — including infectious diseases, bioterrorism, natural disasters and chronic disease — and to help reduce health disparities between, and within, countries.

Health disparities, or the disproportionate burden of illness, injury, disability or mortality, account for nearly one million hospital stays and $6.7 billion in health expenses each year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also distressing, notes Hearst, is the fact that the poor and ethnic minorities suffer the most burden of poor health, and “our public health workforce is not diverse,” she says. St. Kate’s is doing its part to address both concerns.

The University’s baccalaureate public health program consistently draws a diverse student body. Nearly 75 percent are minorities representing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as domestic minority groups. Many of the students bring a unique perspective to the classroom — and eventually into the field — having lived (or currently living) in areas where health disparities are wide. Hearst expects the same student diversity and outlook at the master’s level, judging by current interest at the info sessions. St. Kate’s MPH in Global Health, launching in fall 2016, includes a required “on-the-ground” practicum in a low- or
middle-income country to ensure all students are ready to work with all populations.

“Healthcare isn’t available everywhere, and this is where public health comes in,” Hearst says. “Public health is about prevention. If we can create and implement good preventive strategies, we can actually decrease the demand for healthcare services and reduce healthcare costs while improving the quality and length of life.”

The field of public health at the undergraduate level is relatively recent, gaining ground only after the Institute of Medicine released its seminal 1988 report, “The Future of Public Health.” This report defined public health as “what we do as a society collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy,” and called for better public health education across the nation. Building awareness around this issue took nearly 20 more years, but St. Kate’s was one of the first U.S. universities to answer the call by offering a bachelor’s degree in public health. With its new MPH next year, the University will join a select few institutions that are tackling public health at the global level.

The career options for graduates from St. Kate’s MPH in Global Health program are endless. They can hold leadership positions in fields such as emergency response, infectious disease control, monitoring and evaluation, biosecurity, epidemiology and health advocacy, predicts Hearst, or they can influence health outcomes through research for government agencies, universities, nonprofit organizations or private companies.

“The people who go into public health care deeply about wanting to improve the health of populations,” she says. “Some of them have a specific interest like malaria, HIV or women’s rights, or they are outraged that people are hungry or sick. Our graduates have a real ability to make a difference in the lives of communities, from community-level interactions all the way up to policy development.”

Photo by UniversalImages/Getty Images

Photo by UniversalImages/Getty Images


Master of Arts in Interpreting Studies and Communication Equity
Classes begin summer 2016
Applications due April 1

Master of Public Health in Global Health
Classes begin fall 2016
Applications due December 1

St. Kate’s MPH in Global Health includes a 200-hour practicum in a low- to middle-income country

Pauline Oo
MAOL Cert ’14, MBA '16

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