A Well-Kept Secret: Sign Language Studies Offered At SWIC


            The Sign Language Studies (SLS) program at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) allows students, who are interested in being a sign language interpreter, to pursue that career by completing a 2-year course at SWIC. The SLS courses are only offered in the Fall and Spring semesters at SWIC.


“Students enrolled in the second year at SWIC are supposed to complete 25 hours of sign language interpreting and are expected to go to at least two different social events,” explained student Gabriella Generally.

            When asked what motivated her to learn sign language, Generally responded, “I wanted to give back to the community that gave me a way to communicate when I was little. I had a hard time hearing, and when I was younger, I was non-verbal, so my mom taught me American Sign Language” (ASL).

            When 14 years old, Generally said she realized that she wanted a career in becoming a sign language interpreter for songs.

Her passion for interpreting was made obvious when she said, “I love song interpreting, and I feel like this is my way of giving back to the community who helped me in the past.”

            Generally said she wants to transfer to a four-year college, so that she can earn a Bachelors’ degree in Deaf Education. When interviewed during the Fall 2018 semester, Generally said her aim was to transfer to Fontbonne University in St. Louis.

            Students enrolled in the SLS program at SWIC have different reasons why they want to be an interpreter. Some students have personal reasons. For example, Angela Wrather is planning to be an interpreter because of her daughter.

            “My daughter, who passed away, was non-verbal, and to honor her, I decided to start a career change,” said Wrather.

            Wrather was 40 years old when she realized she wanted to be a sign language interpreter. Her future plans, she said, are to eventually get state certifications and to start working.

            Alex Martinez, another student in the SLS program, wants to continue to work for her Bachelors’ while she is at SWIC. Martinez is inspired by the SLS program because the program, she said, relates to her health condition.

Student Debbie Mills, signing the symbol for “I love you,” in sign language.

            “I have an Usher Syndrome, a disorder that causes deaf/blindness, and when I met others like me, some signed and that inspired me to learn,” said Martinez.

            The truth be told, Mills said she knew from birth that she wanted to be an interpreter.

            “My parents were both deaf, and I grew up using sign language,” she said.

            Mills, who was also interviewed last Fall semester, had already received her Bachelors’ degree and was looking for work in Missouri.

           Yet another SWIC student, Bella Grippi, grew an awareness of sign language last year, and said she absolutely fell in love with the culture that was provided by SLS. What motivated Grippi the most to join this program was that she was working in a school and decided that it might be fun to interpret for children.

            While Grippi was motivated by her students, Michaela Russell said she connected with sign language after watching the TV series, Switched at Birth. About a year ago, Russell said she became involved with the SLS program, wanting to contribute to the deaf community. As for her future, she is planning to look for a job and wants to transfer to another college to complete her Bachelor’s.

           Is it Lindsey or Russell? said she was motivated by her little sister to choose a career in interpreting. “I was about 7 years old when my younger sister lost her hearing,” said is it Lindsey or Russell? ” My mom taught us sign language and I absolutely loved it.”

            Is it Lindsey or Russell? also mentioned that other motivational factors included the fact she is an introvert and shy. As for her future, she plans to take the required tests to become an interpreter. 

            In the end, the SLS program is attended by students who come from different parts of Illinois and beyond. Still, not many know about this program. Its main goal is to prepare students for the future, so that they can contribute to the deaf community.

Sign Language Studies (SLS) students show how “SWIC” is spelled in sign language.

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