Modeling the "signs" of professionalism


By Andrea O'Neill '06

Anne Koch '15 gives back by organizing Immersion Weekend for ASL senior interpreting students.

Anne Koch '15 was inspired along her career path by a middle school classmate.

"On the first day of 6th grade, there was someone signing at the head of the class in black clothing that wasn't my teacher," Koch explained. "It was my classmate’s interpreter, and I was hooked on American Sign Language (ASL) from that moment on."

Koch became good friends with her Deaf classmate, and they still remain in contact. She joined the ASL club in middle school and chose ASL as her language requirement over Spanish or German in high school. When it came time to choose a college and a major, Bloomsburg was the only state school in Pennsylvania that offered a four-year bachelor's degree in ASL interpreting.

"That made my decision for me," recalled Koch, but once she was here, it became about much more than cost and location. The class sizes that were sometimes smaller than her high school courses allowed her to develop a close relationship with her professors, while the career experiences she had as a student allowed her to leave campus fully prepared for the professional world.

Alumni Volunteer, Anne Koch '15 works with a senior interpreting student during Immersion Weekend 2022.
A volunteer signs with a senior ASL interpreting student at Immersion Weekend 2022 in
​​​​​​ Harrisburg.

"We had a lot of mock interpreting opportunities," explained Koch, who completed a summer practicum as the major's capstone. "I had a great foundation. The program was top-notch and is only getting better."

The program now has several classes of ASL interpreting for niche industries such as education and medicine. Since facial expressions and other gestures matter nearly as much as the signs themselves, real-world practice is vital before taking on the responsibility of being an interpreter. That is why Koch recently took over the organization of BU’s Immersion Weekend; an event that combines alumni, senior interpreting students, faculty, and Deaf community members that was started by 2011 ASL Interpreting grads, Katie Knoll Murphy and Maribel Escarfullery Flaherty.

"We wanted to bring this to Bloomsburg as a way to give back," explained Koch. "It forces the interpreting senior class to use nothing but ASL for several days and in many different situations."

Immersion Weekend is a weekend away at a rented Bed and Breakfast with the senior class interpreting majors. The students, several alums, Deaf community members, and professors live completely silent together for an entire weekend – using only their hands to communicate. The event gives students a chance to tweak their skills and allows them to make mistakes in a low-stakes environment, while also serving as a "last hurrah" for the seniors. The soon-to-be grads rotate through simulations, such as doctor appointments or class lectures, and volunteers from the Deaf community provides feedback throughout.

"It was such a great bonding experience when we were students and it really allowed us to hone our skills before graduating," explained Koch. "Now I'm carrying the torch of organizing and running the event. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it, knowing how I felt when I was in their shoes. It's nice to connect with the students and give back."