Phoenix College's Interpreter Preparation Program Celebrates 30 Years as Only Program of Its Kind in Maricopa County

Alumni and students celebrate the Anniversary of Phoenix College's Interpreter Preparation Program

Alumni and students of Phoenix College's Interpreter Preparation Program (IPP) will celebrate the program's 30th anniversary during a special reception and graduation ceremony beginning at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, May 9th in the college's Bulpitt Auditorium at 1202 W. Thomas Rd. Sherri Collins, executive director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing and chair of the IPP advisory board, will be one of the featured speakers.

Phoenix College's program has been the only one of its kind in Maricopa County for the past 30 years. With the launch of the IPP in 1981, the college made a commitment to address the educational and training needs of interpreters to serve as a bridge between the hearing and deaf communities. Over the years, hundreds of students have trained at Phoenix College to become professionals who facilitate communication between deaf and hearing individuals.

"I have had an amazing experience at Phoenix College in the Interpreter Preparation Program," said Tiffany Howe, an IPP graduate. "I chose this program because I heard many good things about this school. Everything from the director, amazing teachers, fellow classmates, Deaf guests and lab technicians has allowed me to succeed in my school and career goals. My plan is to become a provisional license interpreter, get my bachelor's degree in Interpreting and to take my National Certification test within the next few years," she said. "I feel blessed to say I graduated from Phoenix College."

According to Kay Hilder, IPP program director, beyond community and education interpreting, many PC students have gone on to teach interpreting, interpret at conventions, become legal interpreters, and even form their own interpreting agencies.

"U.S. News & World Report included the occupation of interpreter/translator among its 50 best careers of 2011, and we definitely see demand for the skills that the IPP is designed to teach students," said Hilder.

Interpreting is a complex task that requires a high degree of fluency in two languages. Students must become fluent in American Sign Language, or ASL, the language used by the majority of deaf people in the United States and Canada. ASL is a visual/gestural language with unique grammatical, lexical, and other linguistic features. ASL interpreters must use advanced cultural and linguistic knowledge to ensure that communication between parties is natural and effortless.

"Students have to learn to portray the intent of the speaker," said Hilder.

PC's program consists of a variety of courses including ASL, interpreting classes, deaf culture, and related course work. IPP students may choose to pursue an Associate's Degree in Interpreter Preparation or a certificate in Deaf Studies or Interpreter Preparation.

Students enroll in the program for a variety of reasons: to pursue a career in ASL/English interpreting, to communicate with deaf family members or friends, or to earn foreign language transfer credits.

A study by the Modern Language Association released in late 2010 found that American Sign Language is close to surpassing German as the third-most-studied foreign language at colleges and universities in the United States. The study showed that enrollment in ASL classes increased 16 percent since the previous survey in 2007.

At Phoenix College, the program's faculty is comprised of both hearing and deaf professionals. All of the ASL courses are taught by deaf faculty members who are native users of the language. Deaf guests are often brought in to the classroom to help students practice their skills.

Student learning is supported and accelerated through the use of the college's unique ASL/IPP Lab, which provides cutting-edge technology to enhance the learning experience, such as the opportunity to record and analyze their interpreting work.

Outside of the classroom environment, a campus club for ASL and IPP students, ASL PAH, provides additional learning opportunities, supporting students learning American Sign Language through hands-on experience and the promotion of practice and involvement in deaf culture. During their final semester of the program, students also take part in an internship program in which they are placed in a community setting under the supervision of a licensed interpreter.

Sign language interpreting is a rapidly expanding field with an increasing demand for qualified interpreters. Public and private agencies, businesses, and schools are often in need of professional interpreters to meet their mandated responsibilities for communication access. Interpreters may work in full-time or part-time positions, or they may do freelance work. Freelance interpreters enjoy flexible hours and a variety of settings including medical, legal, religious, mental health, rehabilitation, performing arts, and business. Students who wish to become a certified interpreter must pass the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf written and performance tests.

Phoenix College's IPP program recently was selected to participate in the Outcomes Circle Project, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration. PC was one of 13 colleges in the country to be chosen for the three-year grant project, which is organized through the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) at Northeastern University for the purpose of identifying innovative and best practices in teaching ASL and interpreting. PC will receive access to faculty support and curriculum resources.

"This is an honor as we are one of only two IPPs in our region to have been chosen," said Hilder. "We will have the opportunity to work with some of the top interpreter trainers in our field, receive support for program needs, contribute to development of a database of materials for ASL and IPP programs nationwide, and receive free graduate level coursework for our faculty related to interpreter education," she said.

Fourteen students will earn their degree or certificate during the IPP ceremony on May 9th, which will also serve as the program's anniversary celebration and alumni reunion. Community members are invited to attend the free event, which begins with an outdoor reception on the college's Pastor Plaza at 6:00 p.m. The program in Bulpitt Auditorium begins at 7:00 p.m.

For more information about the Interpreter Preparation Program at Phoenix College, call 602.285.7190 or visit