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JumpStart gives students a leg up and a sense of connection

August 6, 2010
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The first semester at a college or university can pose a challenge.  New students juggle assignments, labs, and study groups. They also start considering co-curricular activities, like writing for the students newspaper or joining a fraternity or sorority. At Gallaudet, some students experience for the first time classes taught in ASL. To help students who need an extra leg up to prepare for this, the JumpStart Program is there.

On July 19, JumpStart welcomed a record 94 admitted undergraduate students to campus for the five-week orientation program. The program is divided into two tracks, the New Signers Program for students with little or no experience with American Sign Language prior to enrollment, and the Academic Success track, for those admitted through the Admissions Review Committee. The program runs through August 24, just before New Student Orientation begins.

“I thought it was such an awesome idea to get students together who know little or no sign at all,” said entering first-year student Stephanie Weiss, from Florida. “I knew from the start that I would participate in this amazing opportunity to help me get the best experience at Gallaudet.”

The students who got together this year represent the largest group served by the program to date. The program overall has contributed to the immense increase in student retention from students’ first to second year–75 percent from 2008 to 2009, and 93 percent from 2009 to 2010.

“It took a lot of personal contact and follow up,” admits Darian Burwell, who coordinates the program. But the effort to make sure the students got to campus about a month before other new students paid off. Her meticulous selection of the staff was also important. “We strive to hire the right peer counselors with similar experience,” Burwell explained. Several of the 11 student counselors were new signers themselves just a year ago.  She was pleased to find a strong group of ASL, math, and English instructors, as well.  Two graduate student assistants round out the staff.

Throughout the program, students get to know each other through a ropes course and trust activities with the Personal Discovery Program, take classes, and begin working with peer mentors who will continue a relationship through the Performance Learning for Undergraduate Success Program in the students’ first months at the University. The goal is both to give students practical preparation and help them feel a part of their new environment.

“JumpStart is impressive because of many adventurous activities and diverse students. … Overall, the JumpStart Program welcomes me with big open arms,” is how Tyrone Primous, a transfer student in the Academic Success track, summed it up.

Students also have introductions to the many resources on campus, including the Mental Health Center and the Gallaudet Interpreting Service (GIS).

The latter was especially helpful for new signers. On August 2, four members of the GIS staff demonstrated ASL-English interpreting, captioning/CART services, interpreting services for deaf-blind individuals, and transliteration (spoken-signed English services) . The overall message was that communication can happen in many ways at Gallaudet and students can take ownership of their communication needs.

“New students are encouraged to discuss their communication needs with their academic advisors,” said GIS Director Yoshiko Chino. “Our goal is to provide any interpreting services necessary for our students to attain academic success.”

Burwell enjoys seeing a collective commitment to success among the various departments on campus. She also fosters communication between athletic coaches, residential life staff, and the Admissions Office. She sees the many parts of campus as a team: “We’re all working together with one goal–to make sure students feel connected to Gallaudet,” she said.

That concerted effort has paid off.

When asked, a few days into the program, what she thought she would get out of JumpStart, transfer student and new signer Shanna Kuhlman said, “Exactly what the program is called, give me the ability to come into Gallaudet with a jump into the semester.”

 

6 August 2010

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