Stephen Fitzmaurice

Stephen Fitzmaurice
Image Credit: Clemson University

CLEMSON — Stephen Fitzmaurice, assistant professor of American Sign Language interpreting at Clemson University, has been awarded $1,011,547 from the South Carolina Department of Education to establish the first South Carolina Educational Interpreting Center at the University Center in Greenville. Clemson will partner with the South Carolina State Department of Education and the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind to open the new center.

The center aims to improve the quality of educational interpreters in South Carolina by providing national skills and knowledge assessments, in-service professional development sessions, mentoring and technical assistance to educational interpreters and local school districts.

“As a nationwide leader in preparing educational interpreters,” Fitzmaurice said, “we are excited to receive this award which will go a long way not only to improving the skills of working educational interpreters in South Carolina but towards improving educational access for children who are deaf and hard of hearing across the state.”

Clemson University is home to the only interpreter program in South Carolina and is the sole institution in the state offering a baccalaureate degree in American Sign Language.

“Clemson’s new center for educational interpreting will pave the way toward a better education for deaf and hard of hearing students in South Carolina and beyond,” said Richard Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, home to Clemson’s American Sign Language program. “It is core to our mission as teachers — doing everything we can making sure every child in the classroom has a chance to access the lesson.”

Lack of qualified educational interpreters is a problem nationwide and no less so here in South Carolina. Proficiency levels for many interpreters working in public schools in South Carolina are well below national levels and only 30 percent have passed the exam that measures nationally identified skills and knowledge competencies for work as educational interpreters.

Educational interpreting is not an easy task. An interpreter must listen to the message, quickly extract from it all the important parts and transfer that information into American Sign Language. When done poorly, information is missed or distorted and deaf students can quickly fall behind their peers.

In South Carolina, the state legislature and school districts are tightening minimum standards for hiring educational interpreters, which in a state so severely lacking in proficient interpreters makes it even harder to fill all the vacant positions.  Having a bad interpreter is a problem. Having no interpreter at all is a problem of a different kind.

“In the Department of Languages, we are extremely proud that we are bringing Deaf culture to the core of the diversity effort at Clemson,” said Salvador Oropesa, chair and professor of the Department of Languages.