A strong sense of professional ethics is high on the list of important traits. Interpreters work in diverse settings (healthcare, legal, educational, social) with persons from diverse backgrounds and with various language competencies. They are privy to the most intimate details of peoples’ lives and are subject to vicarious trauma in painful situations. In addition to instilling the importance of personal well-being, I teach my students to approach their class assignments as they should approach their work when they are practitioners in the field, with unconditional positive regard for all people. Students learn in my courses that personal biases and assumptions, whether conscious or unconscious, have repercussions in their work if they are not checked, and they have the power to negatively affect the outcome of a situation by imposing privilege and power. Power differentials, empowerment, cultural competence, and a neutral-yet-amiable disposition are all valuable traits in professional interpreters and I expect nothing less from my students.
What do you do when you need a break from students and research?
This is a difficult question because my passions are teaching and research. My idea of a holiday is spending time in the translation library at the University of Graz in Austria.
Describe one of your research projects as if talking to somebody who knows nothing about your field.
In 2011, I was awarded an Oscar Muñoz Presidential Professorship to further my research agenda at home and abroad. My primary focus is the success of students in their quest to become spoken or signed language interpreters through an academic program. Most recently, I conducted a study, Cognitive and Motivational Contributors to Aptitude: A Study of Spoken and Signed Language Interpreting Students, to measure mental flexibility, memory, concentration, and psychomotor response time in the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and Czech Republic to signed and spoken language students. This avenue of inquiry emphasizes the similarities in the way interpreting students acquire the necessary skills to become qualified interpreters, regardless of their modality. I belong to a small group of international researchers who are investigating aptitude and admission testing in our programs. Within the interpreter education profession (spoken and signed), there is little empirical evidence upon which to base admission screening, yet domestic and international programs continue to admit and decline applicants based on anecdotal evidence. This practice has the potential to result in admitting students who will not persist and declining students who might have persisted had they undergone training, so it is a problem that continues to warrant research priority for me.
Yes, I have led three study abroad classes for “Research in Interpreting” for graduate and undergraduate students as part of UNF’s Transformational Learning Opportunity program. We go to Slovenia and Austria to attend university programs that prepare spoken and signed language interpreters. UNF students participate in an introductory Austrian Sign Language class, work in a translation library, and interact with interpreting students and local Deaf communities. Our next trip will be Spring Break 2013, and I’m so excited to provide this opportunity for UNF interpreting students.
How has UNF differed from other universities where you have taught?
UNF has required me to develop courses and teach a highly-visual profession (signed language interpreting) within online classroom settings. My contribution to the profession of interpreter education has been to demonstrate this is indeed possible and beneficial to students. In a recent interview with an international journal, I was able to highlight the advantages UNF’s program design presents for students and the university. I have also presented the model at national conferences and was invited to present it at the upcoming European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters conference in Austria (which I will do in September, 2012). It is my greatest privilege to be teaching in such a progressive program as this!
What is your favorite class or topic to teach?
I have two favorite topics: the cognitive process of interpreting between two languages and cultures and service-learning in the Deaf community. I enjoy preparing students to (a) manage the complex cognitive task of interpreting, and (b) develop professional alliances with the community that will be central to their careers as interpreters.
What have you published recently?
Most recently, I wrote a book for interpreter educators on the topic of service learning. A student version is in preparation and both are scheduled for release in spring 2013 from Gallaudet University Press.
Shaw, S. (in press). Service learning in interpreter education: Strategies for extending student involvement in the Deaf community. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press [Volume 6, Interpreter Education Series].
This volume comes in response to a growing need for information that is specific to the interpreting profession and emphasizes the unique condition of interpreter-community alliances. Many interpreter educators are familiar with service-learning in some form or fashion because it is widely-promoted on most university campuses, but they might not know how critical it is or how to incorporate it effectively into interpreter education. While there is a growing body of literature about service-learning in the general context of higher education, interpreter educators need to understand it as it applies to restoring relationships in the Deaf community.
If you had not become an academic, what would you have done?
I was a child advocate for eight children in the state foster care system for a period of three years in a program called “Court Appointed Special Advocates” (Guardian Ad Litem in Florida). That experience taught me the importance of children having a voice in court and if I could pursue another line of work, it would be as an attorney ad litem for abused and neglected children.
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