Helping Hands

 

Kennesaw State graduates use sign language to build community

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 14, 2018) — After sitting through English 1101 for the 10th time, sign language interpreters Frank and Joi Greco began considering getting degrees of their own.

A short while later, a car accident gave the couple the catalyst to commit to their furthering their education. A shoulder injury from the accident impacted Joi Greco’s ability to interpret full time, and they realized they needed an alternative to interpreting that allowed them to still advocate for the deaf students they worked with at Kennesaw State University.

More than two years after the accident and almost three decades after the couple began working as interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, the Grecos graduated from Kennesaw State with degrees in sociology and will immediately begin graduate programs in education. With those degrees, they plan to teach and continue to advocate for deaf students.

Joi and Frank Greco

The pair credit KSU’s online course offering for allowing them the flexibility to complete their degree requirements while supporting fellow students through sign language.

“With the option to take classes online, we could continue working full time and get through our classes on our time,” Frank Greco said.

Sociology felt like an obvious choice for the couple, he said, as they wanted to examine the interactions between those who are deaf and those who have the ability to hear. They chose to focus on medical sociology to gain a better understanding the social aspects of health.

“Suddenly, these behaviors we’ve seen for 20 years, we had a name for them,” he said. “It really helped us as interpreters to understand how to bridge these two communities: the deaf student’s experiences and the college experience.”

Sign language has been part of their lives since childhood, as the Grecos both have relatives who are deaf. As a result, they grew to love signing and bonded over their mutual appreciation for American Sign Language (ASL). However, the idea of being an interpreter never occurred to Frank Greco until he was asked by a friend to use his skills to interpret a college course.

“Frank came home that night and said, ‘I’m quitting my job,’” Joi Greco recalled. “This is what I want to do with my life.”

After becoming registered through the Registrar of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), they interpreted for schools and various functions throughout New Jersey. Over time, desire to be closer to both of their families led the couple to move to Georgia. Once again, Frank Greco was asked to utilize his skills to interpret for a student enrolled a calculus course at Kennesaw State.

“I love math, so it was an easy decision to accept the work,” he said.

Over the last decade, the Grecos have worked with the University to create a supportive community for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Kennesaw State has grown from having one deaf student attending to having nearly a dozen students. The Grecos, along with a small team of interpreters, work closely with the students and create an environment where everyone knows each other. That relationship is a vital part of interpreting and builds trust between student, faculty, and the interpreter, Joi Greco said.

When the pair originally began their degree program, they had the idea all they needed was a degree but a development course with Evelina Sterling, associate professor of sociology, changed all of that. Sterling spoke with the Grecos outside of class about their work and what their hopes were for the future. She suggested the pair write about their experiences as interpreters.

“She’s the person that really listened to us and helped us bring our career, our degree, and our future plans together,” Joi Greco said. 

With Sterling’s help, the Grecos began work on a paper proposal titled, “Deaf on Campus: Achieving Success for Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing College Students.” They hope to include suggestions and tips from their years as interpreters and from panels of deaf students to help others who suffer from hearing difficulties to achieve success in college. Eventually, they plan to expand upon the paper in a full-length book.

“A bachelor’s degree is more than just a piece of paper,” said Joi Greco, who hopes to someday teach ASL at Kennesaw State. “Your career is built on the foundation of your college experience. We built a solid foundation at Kennesaw State.”

– Andrea Judy

Photos by David Caselli



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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