ASL Program, Expands Space, Offerings

Students in the ASL lab before it was remodeled and expanded into the ASL Enrichment Center.
Students in the ASL lab before it was remodeled and expanded into the ASL Enrichment Center.

American Sign Language (ASL) is the third most common language in the United States, after English and Spanish. The UWM School of Education’s ASL Studies program is the only four-year bachelor’s degree program in Wisconsin, and one of only a few in the region, according to Sunny Brysch, director of the program.

To support its efforts, the program recently completed an expansion and renovation of its 2nd floor lab, more than doubling the size and renaming the area the ASL Enrichment Center. The reconstruction was supported through donations, with the Stackner Family Foundation providing a generous lead gift.   

The program has also developed online asynchronous classes to expand learning beyond the campus.  Beginning in the spring semester of 2024, the ASL Studies program will be offering its first-ever asynchronous ASL course. These self-paced modules, completed exclusively online, will reach even more students beyond UWM. “The benefit of an asynchronous course is it provides students the flexibility to learn ASL when it is convenient for them while still receiving high quality instruction moderated by a native user of ASL, said Brysch.  

Currently the ASL program enrolls more than 500 students. ASL Studies offers both a major and a minor. While many students choose the ASL/English interpreting program, others pair it with majors like healthcare, psychology, communications and criminal justice.  In addition, many students start ASL to fulfill a language requirement.  

Student Sorelle Gonzalez was interviewed by Channel 4 for a story about the program. 
Student Sorelle Gonzalez was interviewed by Channel 4 for a story about the program.

The newly expanded enrichment center gives students a chance to immerse themselves in Deaf language and culture, Brysch said. Before the remodeling, the limited lab space was only available to upper level ASL and interpreter training students. “Our program had grown by leaps and bounds, but the space had not,” Brysch said.    

The goal in renovating the area was to expand it to all ASL students to develop one community of learners. The School of Education programs strive for excellence in language fluency, cultural competency, and communication access – a key to creating equal opportunity for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deaf Plus and Deaf Blind community, according to program leaders. The center is staffed by individuals who are deaf. CJ Guintolis-Dubois, teaching faculty in Teaching and Learning, is the lab coordinator.   

“Our ASL programs are an essential part of the mission of the School of Education,” said Andrew Davis, associate dean and head of school for the School of Education. There is a vast gulf between the number of people using ASL and services for people with ASL.  “This includes a shortage of ASL English Interpreters and the ability of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals to have equitable access to services such as healthcare, legal services, education, and most customer-facing businesses,” he added.  “Our programs and the ASL Enrichment Center are key contributors in addressing these issues.” 

Students in the ASL and Interpreter Training programs provided more than 2,000 hours of service to schools and community organizations during the 2022-2023 school year, offering both support and social opportunities.  

The center is designed to be an inviting space serving the Deaf community in many ways. It will provide:    

  • Maximize collaboration among students.  
  • Language coaching to enhance the ASL studies and Interpreter programs.  
  • Space to complete advanced homework assignments and projects.  
  • A welcoming space for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students to find connections and develop leadership skills.  

An open house is planned for Fall 2024.   

Brice Christianson, an alumnus of the program who was featured in an online story and in the EdLine, was selected by the UWM Alumni Association for a Graduate of the Last Decade award. He will be honored at the annual alumni awards ceremony Friday, Feb. 23.