The first graduating class of Nevada State College’s deaf studies program walked across the stage Tuesday, two years after the program was introduced.
Tuesday’s commencement celebrated more than 600 students from the schools of deaf studies, education, liberal arts and sciences and nursing. It was the college’s largest graduating class since it was established in 2002.
Deaf studies graduates marked the occasion by translating the national anthem into American Sign Language at the start of the ceremony. Students in the program master ASL and learn about deaf culture and interpreting.
“The language is just so interesting,” said Vanessa Terraza, one of five deaf studies graduates who walked Tuesday night.
In 2012, the interpreter certification process was altered to require that prospective interpreters have a bachelor’s degree. Nevada State College introduced the deaf studies major in 2017, adding classes to expand the existing minor into a four-year program.
NSC’s program was the first four-year deaf studies degree offered in the state. The College of Southern Nevada followed suit in 2018, expanding its associate’s degree program.
Graduate Nerisse Cruzado majored in speech pathology and minored in deaf studies. She said there are only a handful of speech pathologists in Nevada who know ASL.
“And obviously there’s more than five deaf people who need them,” she said. Cruzado worked with deaf students during an internship in her last semester and said she used ASL to help teach English as a second language.
Professor Nicole Dunn, who teaches ASL and deaf culture classes, said there’s a desperate need in Nevada and across the country for ASL interpreters. She hopes to see the program continue to grow.
“The more interpreters we have, the more people will learn about the culture,” she said.
Terraza said many parents of deaf children never learn their child’s language.
She plans to get her National Interpreter Certification and pursue a master’s degree in education at UNLV. Someday, she’d like to return to Nevada State College to teach ASL.
“I want to thank all my teachers,” she said. “They’ve all been so great.”