LU’s Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, nationally distinctive

Lamar University’s Department of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education recently received national media coverage when alumnus Dr. Bill Vicars, a tenured professor of American Sign Language and deaf studies at Sacramento State University, began putting his lessons online for free and they went viral. Vicars, who earned his master’s degree in deaf education and his doctorate in deaf studies from LU, has more than a quarter-million subscribers to his American Sign Language online lessons. Find his website, here https://lifeprint.com/.

Vicars, like many students enrolled in LU’s Deaf Studies and Deaf Education programs, is from out of state because very few colleges in the country offer more than an ASL certification much less a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in deaf studies and deaf education, like what is offered at LU.

To better understand LU’s distinction in deaf studies and deaf education, current student Meikayla Mixon,
Meikayla Mixon
Meikayla Mixon
shares her story and reason for attending LU.

Q: Where are you from and when will you graduate?
A: I am from Queen Creek, Arizona. I moved to Beaumont to attend LU. I am currently a senior by credits, a sophomore (as I have only been here a year and a half), and I am taking junior level classes for the most part. I am scheduled to graduate in May of 2022.

Q: What brought you to Lamar University?
A: I came to Lamar University to participate in the American Sign Language program. I was not sure what I wanted to do with ASL, but I knew that I wanted to use it daily and work with Deaf individuals. Due to this uncertainty, LU felt like the right fit; the three ASL focuses provided many opportunities to decide what I wanted to do in the community. Lamar University also had one of the most praised programs in the country.

Q: Why not somewhere closer to home?
A: I only had four choices, despite many schools offering a degree in ASL interpreting, and several factors narrowed down the list. First, I knew I wanted to go to a four-year university; this cut the list in half. Once that was decided, a quick Google search determined that only four universities offered a bachelor's degree in ASL. Many schools had an associate's program that offered certification but that was not what I was looking for. In the end, my list was Western Oregon State, Indiana University-Perdue University at Indianapolis, Lamar University and University of Montevallo in Alabama. I decided I really was only interested in Lamar University and IUPUI.

Q: What made you select LU over Indiana?
A: Two major factors contributed to my choosing Lamar University. The first was faculty. When I came to tour Lamar University, the tour leader brought my group (out of the way) to the DSDE Department. I got to meet Dr. Clark and Dr. Smith. Both happened to be heading for a meeting. They stopped to talk with my group and even briefly got to know us. This was different from the other school I visited. Secondly, the degree program caught my attention when compared with others. LU was consistently rated in the top five schools in the country for ASL programs and often rated number one. When I called to talk to an advisor and get information, I asked three questions. Does LU encourage double majors? The answer: Absolutely, many of our students are majoring in ASL and minoring in other interests as well as being double majors. This was important to me because at the time, I was considering two majors, and I was happy to find a school willing to do what it takes to help me achieve my dreams. The second question I asked was: Will Lamar accept my transfer credits? I had graduated high school with two associate degrees and wanted to ensure that my hard work would benefit me here. The answer was “yes, we accept credits from your community college and will work toward making the transition as smooth as possible.” And last, I asked if LU had Deaf professors? The answer was “yes, most of our DSDE faculty are Deaf.” This was important to me because IUPUI had an ASL major, but I would have had to create my own degree plan, and most of the ASL professors were hearing. I personally believe that it is best to learn a language from its native users.

Q: So now you’re in the program. Is it everything you had anticipated?
A: Well, the two things I like most about this program are the Deaf faculty and the signing community. I think that it is incredibly important to have Deaf teachers and faculty because the best way to learn a language is full immersion. Deaf faculty require students to sign when communicating with them and it forces us to practice and develop our skills. Secondly, Lamar University was one of the only universities with a large ASL community on campus. Most schools I looked at the ASL program was very small and out of the way. The only people who signed were the people learning ASL. Here, the interpreters and faculty are always willing to have a conversation, and students are encouraged to get off campus and interact with the Deaf community in Beaumont, as well as sign with one another. The DSDE department is a signing only space, which forces students to become more familiar with different signing styles and concepts. Overall, I really feel that LU makes ASL receptive and productive practice accessible to all students. The environment is very encouraging to new signers and people who want to improve. 

Q: What will you do when you graduate?
A: When I graduate, I hope to continue school either by going on to a master's program in minority or African American studies or by taking the LSAT and going to law school. I am undecided about where my life will go but I know I want to continue learning, specifically in the field of social justice. If I can find programs that interest me here, I would love to stay at Lamar University, but right now, I am not sure where my educational journey will next take me.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say about the program or about your time here at LU?
A: The program was the largest draw for me to LU; however, since my time here, I have grown to love this university. There are so many extracurricular activities; it really is what you make it. In my freshman year alone, I presented an undergraduate research project at the HASBSEB conference, and took home a third-place prize. I have been to the president's house for a Cardinal Conversation with faculty and students. I have gotten a job at the ASL lab where I continue to practice and improve my skills and I have made lifelong friends. I am so excited to see where the next year and a half will take me.