Christen Stefanelli is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Rehabilitation Science with a concentration in psychology and a certificate in American Sign Language. Below, Christen shares how her ASL education has become part of her life here at Pitt: from the classes she takes, her sorority's endeavors, and her plans for the future.
Why did you choose Pitt?
I chose Pitt because I aspire to become an Occupational Therapist (OT) and received a freshman guarantee. Pitt is a great school for OT so I knew that having the opportunity to study here made sense for me. I also fell in love with the campus since there is so much to do; from exploring the city to walking around Schenley Park.
Are you a member of any organizations on campus?
As of spring 2019, I became a sister of Delta Zeta and our philanthropy division is focused on the Starkey Hearing Foundation. In order to support this organization, we plan a bunch of events including bake sales to raise funds. We also are partnering with the American Sign Language (ASL) club on campus in order to learn more about ASL and Deaf culture.
I also am a member of Phi Eta Sigma, a national honors society, as well as the Rehabilitation Science Student Association (RSSA). RSSA allows me to be surrounded by other students interested in the rehabilitation science field and has provided me the opportunity to be paired with a mentor that also plans to become an OT.
Did you have any previous second-language exposure before coming to Pitt?
Throughout my four years in high school, I took Italian. My entire family speaks the language and I have many relatives that live in Italy. Since I never learned as a child, I wanted to be able to communicate with my Italian relatives. Unfortunately, the language options were very limited at my high school and I did not have the opportunity to take many different languages.
How did you become interested in studying American Sign Language?
Since there were only three languages offered at my high school, I was very intrigued by the unique list of languages that Pitt had to offer. After taking a linguistics course here, I was very fascinated by languages and once I looked at this list I thought that ASL would be very useful for my future endeavors.
How does studying this language fit into your future plans?
Since I aspire to become an OT and hope to work with children, I believe that ASL will be useful in being able to communicate with more of the children that I encounter. I know that not many OTs know ASL and I definitely think that this would allow me to help the largest group of children possible since my main goal is to help others.
What has been your best experience using this language?
As part of the curriculum, students are required to partake in Deaf events. This has been a great opportunity to immerse myself in the Deaf community and be able to practice ASL with individuals outside of the classroom. I have been able to learn about Deaf culture firsthand by being exposed to the culture and norms of the Deaf community, which has really opened my eyes to much more than just the language.
What is the greatest challenge with learning this language?
Since ASL is a visual language, there is an adjustment that is necessary when it comes to being attentive to the person that you are signing with. Although many people think that ASL is just signed English, it has its own grammar rules and it was difficult adjusting to these differences as well.
What has knowing/ studying this language allowed you to do that you would not have been able to do otherwise?
Studying ASL has allowed me to learn about the Deaf community which I never would have had the opportunity to do otherwise. Being in Pittsburgh especially allows so many more opportunities since the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, and Pittsburgh Association of the Deaf are nearby and there are many Deaf events that allow me to be able to practice the language.