Columbia College Chicago’s American Sign Language Department Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Last year’s annual “Beyond the Books” silent retreat drew more than 200 participants to Camp Lake, Wisconsin, where participants immerse themselves in Deaf culture. Photo: Phil Dembinski ‘08
Milestone event to highlight the Deaf community’s impact on Chicago, culture, art, and industry; features ASL improv, workshops, and networking opportunities.

CHICAGO (April 23, 2018)—On April 28, Columbia College Chicago’s American Sign Language (ASL) Department will celebrate its 25th anniversary to highlight the accomplishments of the department and the professionals working with the Deaf community, and their impact on Deaf culture in Chicago and abroad. The all-day event will bring together alumni, students, faculty, staff, and industry leaders from the ASL community. Registration begins at 600 S. Michigan Ave. and the Gala event takes place at the Conaway Center at 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

ASL (originally the Interpreter Training Department) began at Columbia in 1993 shortly after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to meet the demand for additional educational programs nationwide. At the time, no other colleges in the Midwest offered a four-year interpretation program. Today, the ASL Department offers a major in ASL–English Interpretation, a major in Deaf Studies, and a minor in ASL Studies.

“It’s important that the ASL Department provides a model of empowerment and visibility to everyone—not just the Deaf community,” said Peter Cook, the first Deaf chair to lead the ASL Department, and only one of two to lead an ASL-Interpretation program. “We aren’t just talking about it, we are putting it in action. Deaf representation and advocacy increase awareness and respect for Deaf culture.”

Columbia is one of only 13 four-year colleges to offer a degree in ASL and the first in the country to require a course in Multicultural Issues in Interpreting. Columbia’s ASL-English Interpretation program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education and continues to be a leader in ASL among higher-education institutions. The curriculum emphasizes work with the Deaf population as a linguistic and cultural minority. All seniors of the program are paired with licensed interpreters as mentors before they graduate. With the high demand for licensed interpreters and Columbia’s established reputation in the field, 86 percent of ASL Department alumni go on to work with the Deaf community in fields such as education, government, and creative fields. This spring, Columbia will offer an online ASL course through Columbia Online.

“The ASL Department—in its commitment to community engagement and career readiness—exemplifies what a distinctive Columbia education means,” said Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences Steven Corey. “The department comprises internationally recognized faculty and staff as well as students and alumni who are leaders in their fields. Celebrating the department’s excellence and accomplishments in its first 25 years provides an opportunity to look forward to the myriad ways they will continue to contribute to Columbia, Chicago, and to Deaf culture at large.”

A full day of educational activities will include alumni panel discussions, industry poster sessions, and Continuing Education Unit (CEU) workshops. The evening soiree will feature a keynote speaker, ASL improv, entertainment, food, and social networking opportunities. Featured presenters include Cook, ASL Associate Professor Crom Saunders, Edna Johnston, ASL alum Susan Sotnick ’05, Dr. Emily Shaw, Patti Shore-Kaden, Keith Wann, and other faculty and alumni.

At Columbia, the ASL Department includes coursework—and attracts students—from other creative fields such as theatre, creative writing, fashion studies, and more. Alumni have worked in diverse fields like schools such as Hinsdale South High School, theatres such as Lookinglass Theatre, Steppenwolf, and the Goodman, and even as official interpreters for the White House. 

For more information on the ASL 25th anniversary event, visit the registration page. The ASL Department is also accepting donations to its gift fund


Columbia College Chicago is a private, nonprofit college offering a distinctive curriculum that blends creative and media arts, liberal arts, and business for nearly 7,500 students in more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Dedicated to academic excellence and long-term career success, Columbia College Chicago creates a dynamic, challenging, and collaborative space for students who experience the world through a creative lens. For more information, visit



Anjali Julka
Columbia College Chicago

Jan-Henry Gray
Columbia College Chicago