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Meet Michelle Monahan, Phoenix College's Deaf Studies & Interpretation Preparation Program Director

Michelle Monahan

Michelle Monahan oversees one of the most unique programs in Maricopa County: Phoenix College’s Deaf Studies & Interpretation Preparation Program. But beyond the academic side, her passion for the program is a family matter. 

“Both of my parents are Deaf along with a close uncle and a couple of cousins, so American Sign Language (ASL) was the primary language used at home,” says Monahan. “My experience was probably somewhat similar to a child that grew up with parents who are immigrants.”

Michelle considered her life very normal, with fully functioning and loving parents. Uniquely though, she found herself acting as an interpreter between her parents and non-deaf people who didn’t sign. “When I was looking into college, I wanted to use my native language to follow in my uncle’s footsteps and teach Deaf children in a K-12 setting but wasn’t sure how I would pay for college. I have an aunt who became an interpreter when I was young, and the profession was very new (due to the advent of laws providing access and inclusion for Deaf individuals). My aunt encouraged me first to become a professional/certified interpreter to help pay my way through college.” 

After starting at an Interpreter Preparation Program (IPP) in Illinois, where she grew up, she transferred to Phoenix College. She became certified and pursued additional degrees but ultimately fell in love with interpreting and working in the Deaf community. Through the years, she had worked closely with the program as a mentor and adjunct instructor and loved developing quality interpreters that might eventually interpret for her family or friends.

Her passion grew from those experiences. She is now in her seventh year, teaching full time in the Deaf Studies & Interpretation Preparation Program. Watching the students grow and discover their path is thrilling each semester. PC’s IPP program is one of only three in the state, and the only one in Maricopa County.

“All of our ASL and culture courses are taught by Deaf individuals who are native users of the language,” Monahan explains. “This provides a cultural immersion experience and recognizes that you cannot separate language and culture. Our students really enjoy this approach and are motivated to connect with their instructors.” 

PC faculty encourage learning inside and outside of the classroom by having an ASL lab and tutoring staffed by Deaf individuals. In addition, the college offers an ASL club and requires student involvement by way of observation, service-learning, and internship. PC’s IPP has built strong partnerships with other occupational programs to provide authentic work experience in settings like our nursing and dental clinics on campus, too.

The program first starts with the Deaf Studies certificate, which is appealing to those who want to gain fluency and knowledge in the Deaf community. Students may want to enhance their current job and broaden their consumer base; to learn for personal reasons to better engage with a Deaf family member or friend, or to pursue the interpreting program or interpreting as a career. 

“Some of our courses explore options beyond interpreting for those who might be interested in another Deaf related field like Vocational Rehabilitation or Speech Pathology,” Monahan says. “Students describe the IPP as “intense.” Any skill-based profession can be a lot of work because it involves more than just doing the homework and showing up for class - you have to develop the necessary skills!” 

The Deaf studies certificate requires 100 hours of community involvement (observation, attending events, or service-learning) and the IPP requires an additional 200 hours to enhance learning, assist this skill development and also give back to PC’s many community partners that make the program and ultimately, the students, succeed. 

“One thing that some students find surprising is that many Deaf individuals do not consider Deafness a disability, but a cultural identity with its own cultural traits and language,” notes Monahan. “Our courses discuss the differences between Deaf and Hearing cultures and its impact on communication and interpreting by engaging in activities on cross-cultural communication and bicultural mediation. 

We also make an effort to expose students to Deaf individuals from all walks of life that work in a wide variety of careers! We focus on ability, not disability. I encourage people not to be afraid but to engage with any Deaf person they encounter as they would anyone who speaks a different language.”

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If you'd like to learn more about our American Sign Language, Deaf Studies and Interpreter Preparation Programs, please visit: https://www.phoenixcollege.edu/programs/american-sign-language/asl-ipp-l...

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