Expert Advisor Interviews & Online Think Tank
Synthesis Paper

Graduation to Certification: Advancing Interpreter Development
St. Catherine University
CATIE Center

Overview of the Proposal

Our grant is a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to design, pilot and evaluate a replicable model program based on evidence-based practices. A major goal is to demonstrate approaches that reduce the average time it takes graduates from bachelor’s programs to earn NIC certification. The RSA requires that the program be experiential, accessible to individuals across the nation and to those with family/work responsibilities, include at least 150 hours of interacting and learning with Deaf people in the community, include a community of practice, and include mentoring/coaching. Additionally, the program must have components that are replicable by other programs and agencies, decrease the time from graduation to obtaining National Interpreter Certification, and accept only applicants who have held a bachelor’s degree in interpreting for one year or less and have passed the NIC written exam.

To achieve this goal, our proposal includes the creation and facilitation of a nine-month program running from mid-March through mid-November. The program aims to include …

Expert Advisors and Think Tank Group

In order to gather feedback and suggestions about the proposed elements and structure of the Graduation to Certification program, we assembled a group of expert advisors comprised of interpreters and interpreting educators and scholars. We conducted one on one interviews with twenty-seven expert advisors as well as facilitated a one-week online Think Tank group in which expert advisors participated in rich discussions about various aspects of the program, offered suggestions for improvement, and posed questions that should be incorporated into future decision making as planning unfolds. Twenty-three of 27 people responded to an online survey for participation in the Think Tank for a response rate of 85%. 78% of the respondents were female and 22% were male. 74% of the Think Tank participants were hearing and 26% were Deaf. 4% were Hispanic or Latino and 96% were not Hispanic or Latino. Interpreters were asked to indicate their race by selecting one or more categories—4% selected Asian, 26% selected Black or African American, and 70% selected White.

Expert advisors were asked to read Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (2014) and …

Recruitment for the Program

A common theme that recurred through interviews and think tank posts was the need to recruit a diverse group of participants that extends beyond mere tokenism, but instead includes a representative group of different ages, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and background in interpreting. While the program stipulates that participants must have graduated from a Bachelors program in interpreting, several expert advisors stressed the importance and need to be intentional about connecting with diverse communities and organizations during the recruitment process and to not depend on standard practices for recruitment that have been used within the field in the past. Suggestions included having an in person recruitment presence at events and organizations where interpreters with diverse and intersectional identities are present such as the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) conference and the National Alliance of Black Interpreters (NAOBI) meetings or conferences.

Recruitment materials whether print, web, or video need to include diverse representations interpreters. One expert advisor noted that …

Strengths of the Proposed Program

Expert advisors had copious comments about the strengths of the proposed program. Several advisors discussed the strengths of the proposed 150 hours of connection with the Deaf Community and service learning. Service learning was a topic discussed in several interviews and particularly how it can be an important part of students gaining authentic language practice with Deaf individuals. One possibility could be pairing participants with Deaf seniors or embedding them volunteering within larger established Deaf senior communities. This kind of pairing would have a reciprocity element of students having authentic language practice with native signers while also being able to give back to people who could benefit in very real ways from service. Major questions regarding structuring the service learning component include considering how to make the service learning experience one that will reap benefits equally for all participants regardless of where they are located and how to monitor and ensure that participants are gaining the desired level of regular and consistent language input.

The structured hours working with …

Potential Limitations and Challenges

One of the challenges foreseen for the program is the difficulty in building a sense of community and connection with peers when a program is mostly online. Tying back to the Community of Practice, this is where intentional and conscious efforts to make sure participants are actively engaged will be crucial.

Providing a mostly remote program and being consistent in available experiences will also be a challenge that will require creative planning. Participants in urban areas with larger Deaf communities may have more easy and ready access to events and opportunities that may be used for contact hours. Participants in rural areas may be more limited in the amount or variety of contact hours available to them. Additionally, the concept of “privilege” was brought up in several interviews and online discussions. One expert advisor noted that people with “privilege” have more availability to participate in a program that does not provide a stipend and requires volunteer hours, stating that it is a “privilege” to be able to do 150 hours of volunteer work for free. Recommendations included …

Engaging Participants in the Deaf Community

Expert advisors were asked how to actively engage participants in the community in meaningful ways, how to structure this type of experience, and how to make the experience manageable for participants. Some concerns about this requirement stemmed from the potential for oversaturating participants in the Deaf Community and the goal being more about the participant getting what they need out of it rather than serving the community. To counter balance this, suggestions were made such as the one noted above for participants to focus their 150 hours on structured service learning projects in specific communities like working with Deaf seniors or volunteering service at local schools for the Deaf. Offering some kind of incentive to Deaf community participants or mentors was also suggested as a way of counter-balancing the potential strain on community resources. At the same time, the need for diverse experiences and exposure was acknowledged.

Developing relationships with stakeholders and organizations that can become partners will be key to …

Evidence-based Practices

Expert advisors widely acknowledged that evidence-based practices are still sparse in the interpreting field, but that some do exist and could be integrated into this program as well as evaluated for suggested use more widely in interpreting education programs. Think Aloud Protocols (TAPs) are one suggested practice that could be useful in several places throughout the program. By having students engage in TAPs at various stages and in various types of activities, participants will engage in a form of interleaving activity stated as a goal for this program as well as critical reflection about not only their work products, but also the processes.

Engaging in other types of critically reflective practices was also mentioned as a type of evidence-based activities that are currently under-utilized in interpreting education programs. Having participants keep written or signed journals about their work and their experiences could be effective. Reflective practices can be incorporated both before and during activities, and can also be done individually as well as …

Piloting Approaches in Interpreting Education

The most discussed approach that could be piloted and used throughout interpreting education is the idea of building a repository of materials for interpreting education programs. A few expert advisors have worked to develop their own open source materials that they would be willing to contribute to an open source repository. One perceived benefit of developing an open source repository was also the ability to include source materials and other types of resources that represent diverse communities and signers, therefore creating more opportunities for these types of materials to be utilized regardless of location or size of community. Resources that address different topics and intersectional communities such as LGBTQ issues (see:, racism (see: NCORE,, Showing Up for Racial Justice (see:, white privilege, audism, abelism, sexism, and diverse religious communities could all be …

Ideas for Incorporating Pre-assessments

Candidates for the Graduation to Certification program could be required to write essays that address what they feel like they gained from their previous Interpreter Education Program. Additionally, entrance essays could ask candidates to reflect about what they feel like they need to improve upon the most and also ask them to reflect about their own positionality so that they have an opportunity to express thoughts about their own identity, understanding, and relationship with social structures. In addition to using essays as a form of pre-assessment developing activities that assess lexical recall and cloze skills may also be useful in predicting success in interpreting. Last, developing an assessment that requires participants to respond to a rang of appropriate ethical scenarios for novice interpreters could be useful for comparing participant’s growth and development with being able to critically examine and respond quickly to ethical scenarios and dilemmas.

For ASL language pre-assessments, the SLPI was recommended over the ASLPI exam. According to one expert advisor the SLPI provides both a score and feedback so this type of pre-assessment may be more beneficial for participants as they prepare to begin the program.

Creating Sustainable and Replicable Programming

One suggested approach to creating a path to sustainable and replicable programming is to partner with reputable interpreting agencies to create internships. Interpreting agencies have the ability to pair participants with mentors, identify low-risk interpreting situations, and provide access to challenging experiences. Agencies that have staff interpreters will have the most ready resources to be able to provide this kind of support. Looking beyond interpreting agencies to what other kinds of organizations could benefit from regular work with participants who need interpreting practice hours could be beneficial as well.

In addition to building in evaluation of the program as it proceeds, careful documentation of processes and outcomes will be helpful in developing a guide or guide materials that can be adopted by interpreting education programs or agencies interested in replicating the program.

Since changing curriculums in academic institutions can be …

Entry to Practice Journey

Expert advisors had wide and varied opinions about balancing the RSA mandate to reduce time from graduation to certification with the entry to practice journey. First, participants have to understand that development of a professional attitude in addition to knowledge and skills is important for success. Next, ensuring that the program does not feel like the continuation of classes might be key to having participants feel like they have moved beyond being a student and are entering their professional career. By incorporating activities like peer mentoring, workshops, and salons participants might be able to feel less like a traditional learner and more like an engaged professional. Peer-to-peer work has the added benefit of having participants take ownership for their work and empower them to engage with their future colleagues. Other approaches that do not only teach to a test but also help participant development valuable tools and resources that they can use in the careers for years to come could be helpful as well.

Addressing Areas of Weakness

Several expert advisors commented that they agreed with the areas of weakness identified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) which include: message coherence, spatial structuring/discourse mapping, depiction in ASL, ASL semantics, fingerspelling, and semantic equivalence. Participants in the Graduation to Certification program will also each come with their own areas of weakness, therefore having a strong diagnostic tool in place early on will be helpful in the creation of Individual Development Plans that are holistic and comprehensive. Developing interpreting assessment tools would also be beneficial to serve as a means for assessing changes and growth in a specific set of marked skills over a period of time.

A common area of weakness expert advisors discussed is message coherence, especially in work from ASL to English. Several advisors proposed incorporating discourse mapping and discourse analysis based activities into the program early on so that participants are exposed to seeing the bigger picture and developing the ability to make connections in texts. Advisors noted that emphasis in interpreting education programs is more often placed on English to ASL production and that this notion needs to be rebalanced. One thing that could be piloted in the program looking at how interpreters can develop a better understanding of English discourse as well and how that might affect their overall work in ASL to English and English to ASL interpreting.

Evidence-based practices for developing English and ASL Fluency

One expert advisor stresses to his students that their life has to become preparation for interpreting—everything they do is a way to build Funds of Knowledge and develop context for understanding discourse that may arise in interpreting. Whether knowing about high school sports teams, listening to Marketplace on NPR to understand economic issues, watching VLOGS that are shared on Facebook and that the community will be talking about, it all comes down to being interested in the world. Therefore, one idea to inspire participants to engage in this type of life-long learning by engaging in a variety of activities such as listening to podcasts, watching Deaf people talking to each other, listening to current events, and watching different discourse structures in professions and noticing not just what people say, but how they say it.

Other ways that this program could specifically aim to help develop interpreters Funds of Knowledge in specific areas could be developing modules in areas where they (especially younger interpreters) may have less life experience such as …

Efforts to Diversify the Interpreting Profession

Discussions around the topic of diversity were notably plentiful both in interviews and in the online Think Tank. Expert advisors had several recommendations and considerations regarding diversity in the program as well as ways to incorporate materials and experiences that represent diverse people and perspectives.

First, as mentioned above in regards to recruitment, recruiting a diverse group of participants will be essential to building a strong program. In addition to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background, considerations about age and life experience should also be taken into consideration. One consideration for recruiting People of Color (PoC) is that historically PoC interpreting students have faced discrimination or disenfranchisement in their Interpreting Education Programs; therefore, PoC applicants may want to understand how this experience will be different than the programs they recently graduated from. One expert advisor, Leandra Williams, stated the following regarding the importance of diversity within …

Summer Immersion Experience

Generally, there was strong support for the summer immersion experiences that have been proposed as a part of the program. One challenge with immersion programs can be how much information is retained after the experience is over; therefore, this is an important reason to consider what types of activities can be built into the immersion experiences to facilitate retrieval.

Deaf people also need to be able to feel invested and have a sense of ownership as a part of being involved in the immersion experiences rather than feeling like it is something that they are just invited to, show up, and the leave. Inviting and involving Deaf people in the planning aspects is important. Additionally, having qualified and engaging teachers is critical to a successful immersion experience.

Immersion experiences could possibly be presented as tracks or modules that participants have some choice in selecting so that they have some choice about that they want to attend. This might create more active engagement and buy in from participants rather than feeling like a requirement.

One challenge to the idea of immersion experiences was figuring out how to create an immersion model that is sustainable beyond the grant cycle or that can be replicated by other programs. However, this was presented more as a point of consideration and to be thinking ahead in terms of sustainability.

Motivation and Participant Engagement

In addition to the potential of getting certified as being a motivational aspect for participants, the opportunity to receive mentorship and connections with the Deaf community also might provide good motivation for participants. Mentors will be an important part of giving critical feedback and providing opportunities for participants to continually calibrate their learning. Having a team (i.e., people who provide recommendations) be a part of the application process for each participant may also increase motivation and engagement because participants will feel they have people back home supporting them.

To assess motivation as a factor for being accepted into the program, expert advisors recommended the possibility of using assessments that examine internal motivation and/or personality. This of course would have to be considered in addition to the other types of assessment already being implemented for other purposes.

The importance of transparency about the program sequence and requirements was noted as a key factor in participants remaining engaged throughout the program time frame. Part of this information should be presented clearly in an orientation, but much of it should also be available up front before participants apply and are accepted. As one export advisor noted, the orientation process will be an important part of participants understanding how they see themselves and their abilities (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014).

Summary and Remaining Questions

Through twenty-seven interviews and week long intensive discussions and unpacking questions in the online Think Tank group, expert advisors have guided this project toward taking the next steps necessary to building a successful pilot program for Graduation to Certification: Advancing Interpreter Development. Although the entirety of feedback and suggestions is too great to include every detail here, this document attempts to summarize and synthesize the most salient points from these critical and insightful discussions. Questions presented and that remain include 1) How do we screen participants to determine their potential success? 2) How do we maximize time program participants spend with the Deaf community, and 3) How do we equip the frontline team of teachers, mentors, and coaches, with a common foundation relation to the growth mentality related pedagogy strategies? We will continue to contemplate these questions as we synthesize findings and develop this program, while continuing to consider essential questions that will help mold experiences for participants.