ASL Club brings together culture, language

2013-03-19T20:35:00Z 2013-03-19T20:41:12Z ASL Club brings together culture, languageContributed by Lesly Bailey Times correspondent

VALPARAISO | Blending cultures and languages, Purdue University North Central American Sign Language Club continues to connect community members through its events.

At a recent coffeehouse gathering at Cornucopia Coffee Company in Valparaiso, presenter Jan Pool shared her insights into deaf education based on her experiences. Participants were able to practice their ASL skills through conversations.

“Utilizing ASL in a natural setting helps to improve the receptive and expressive skills of those who are learning ASL,” said Karen Donah, PNC continuing lecturer and coordinator of ASL Department of English & Modern Languages.

She said participants range from PNC students who are learning ASL to hearing people from the community who are learning or have the desire to learn ASL as well as deaf or hard of hearing community members.

“Some deaf and hard of hearing people do not grow up with Sign Language or learn Signed English and want more exposure to ASL,” she said. “In addition, we have had some who lost their hearing as adults who now want to learn ASL. We embrace diversity.”

Former PNC student Patricia Riley-Churilla is building on her ASL skills for a future role.

“I learned a little sign language early on and had a cousin who worked with kids using sign language and she showed me some basic signs,” Riley-Churilla said. “Later on, I took a six-week course and decided it would be interesting and open me up to a new community of people.

“I plan on interpreting – there is always a need for it. I am aspiring to interpret in a medical setting but it takes a long time as there is a lot more specific training for that. You need to know technical terms and specific vocabulary and it takes years to build up.”

The student at Columbia College in Chicago enjoys the opportunity to connect with a new group of people at the gatherings.

“The events are important because they bring students and deaf people together and students get a chance to actually talk to deaf people and learn more about the culture and not just the language,” Riley-Churilla said. “I have done all kinds of things over the years and this seemed like something I would really put myself into as opposed to just filling out a job application and getting a job. It has opened me up to new people and new things.”

The ASL Club offers various events throughout the year beyond the coffeehouses, including silent teas, silent game nights and silent dinners.

“It’s my observation that the ASL Club events on campus and in the community provide a terrific way for deaf and hard of hearing folks and their families to get together to meet other people like themselves. This shows in the fact that people come so far to attend - seemingly from the Chicago suburbs to South Bend or beyond,” said Carol Connelly, PNC director of media and communication services.

“Also, it’s a terrific forum for deaf and hard of hearing individuals and hearing people to mix and mingle in a way that would not be possible in other forums. It's a great way to reinforce that we’re all in this together.”

“When any of us come to appreciate another culture, it hopefully will have a future effect of helping us to appreciate others, no matter what culture or background we come from,” Donah added.

For more information and to see a calendar of upcoming events, visit

To see more photos, visit

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