Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New Partnership with Gallaudet University Brings Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students to Laramie

Along with warm temperatures and long days, summer 2018 brought a new program to Wyoming EPSCoR; an eight-week internship in the Stable Isotope Facility, SIF, for deaf and hard of hearing students. In partnership with Gallaudet University professor Dr. Caroline Solomon’s biology lab, undergraduates Arianne Levenson and Patrick Pocztarsk from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology learned about environmental science and water quality in the high plains and rolling hills of Wyoming.  Wyoming EPSCoR has highlighted scientists with disabilities since 2012, first bringing scientists to campus to discuss their work and now with a more significant commitment to expanding the definition of a scientist at the University and beyond. The motivation for the new internship program is to grow the deaf and hard of hearing student community at the University of Wyoming and for students working on the Micro project to collaborate with scientists of different abilities and backgrounds. Chandelle Macdonald of the Stable Isotope Facility likened her experience this summer with the interns to work with students from a different culture. She was surprised to “learn how deaf culture works, not just the language but the entire culture.” 
Faculty, staff, and students from the EPSCoR, the Microbial Ecology Collective, and the SIF participated in an introduction to American Sign Language or ASL workshop at the University before Arianne and Patrick’s arrival. This was a chance to learn about deaf culture and pick up a few signs. Participants practiced finger spelling their names and different welcome signs. The experience was both humbling and engaging. The workshop helped the UW community begin a broader conversation on inclusivity.

Interns settled into the UW dorms, which tower over campus, and ate with other summer programs at the dining hall. Each day, they walked across campus to the Berry Center where the SIF is housed and worked with faculty Dr. David Williams, research scientists, and graduate students. Over time, they experienced Wyoming culture, riding horses and hiking in the nearby mountains. One student brought his skateboard and quickly made friends with locals skating around campus and at the park.
Throughout the duration, Arianne and Pat learned about taking samples, different techniques for analysis, and the story told by data. The culminating activity was a poster presentation, which was open to the public. Students, faculty, and staff from EPSCoR’s Micro project watched Arianne sign while listening to an interpreter. Pat spoke about his research.  The question and answer period were filled with graduate students asking Arianne and Pat about their desires for the future, what they were interested in studying, and how this experience influenced their thinking. Each expressed an interest in marine biology and noted the ties between what they learned in the internship and their desired career trajectory.  “this program had activities that could be applied - isotopes and chemicals which will require instruments like isotope ratio mass spectrometer to analyze on” said Arianne. Dr. Williams had a more enthusiastic reflection on the experience, “I was tickled by the whole thing and look forward to supporting future interns in my lab and others across the project.”  

Sparked by an NPR story in its “50 Great Teachers” series called “Biology Professor’s Calling: Teach Deaf Students They Can Do Anything” about Dr. Solomon, Wyoming EPSCoR initiated a dialogue several years ago. Dr. Solomon’s research parallels work Wyoming EPSCoR does on conservation biology and nutrient dynamics in water systems. These similar interests allow for an exciting synergy around aquatic environmental science and the hard of hearing and deaf communities. Over the next four years of EPSCoR’s Track 1 project, Micro, deaf and hard of hearing students will continue to spend their summers in Wyoming doing hands-on research. We hope some decide to return to Laramie for future study.