Gallaudet University’s Peer Mentoring by Debbe Hagner
Gallaudet University’s Peer Mentoring Certification Program
by Debbe Hagner
In June 2018, I was encouraged to sign up for Gallaudet University’s Peer Mentoring program. I filled out the application which was accepted. This program is designed for hearing loss leaders. When I attended Gallaudet University in Aug 2019 for the initial summer course, I was excited as I had never been there. Gallaudet University was the first university dedicated to educating Deaf and hard of hearing people in the world. It was founded in 1864 in Washington, DC. There are other colleges for the deaf and hard of hearing such as the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York. This is where I received my bachelor of science degree in computer science. These schools are unique in that sign language is used and accepted. Knowledge of sign language is not required for peer mentors, but it is helpful. There is a sign language interpreter and CART (captioning) if it is needed.
I was scheduled to attend class on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I was expecting a grand tour of the campus but at the time it was not open. On the first day of class – there were nine of us. Three people knew sign language and six did not. There were two males and seven females. Three people had cochlear implants and the others had hearing aids. Our teacher, Sarah, started us off with, “What is a peer mentor?”, and then we learned about civility. Each of us came from different backgrounds and upbringings. I was afraid that I already knew a lot of information, but I was willing to keep an open mind. We learned how to use blackboard, where we would do our homework and our discussions. We got to meet Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano, the President of Gallaudet. She welcomed us to Gallaudet and the Peer Mentoring Program. After class, some of us couldn’t wait to go to Starbucks to get the special signed “Starbuck” cups! It was cool that the employees knew sign language. There were hearing people going to that store. There should be more places like this!!!
Sarah was our teacher in the beginning of the program. It was turned over to two teacher assistants, Rebecca and Bryn, who were earning their doctorates in audiology. We got to meet Larry Medwetsky, a professor at Gallaudet. He is a very interesting person to listen to and learn from. He has a wealth of knowledge as an audiologist.
After we finished our weekend at Gallaudet, we had homework. We would meet online using google hangout. Sometimes, we would use Zoom toward the end of our program. We would meet online every Monday for one hour and half.
The first course was “Orientation to Peer Mentoring” where we had to write our vision and define mentorship. It was interesting to see what other people had to say about their vision.
The next course was “Hearing Loss in America: An overview” where we learned about the impact of hearing loss on communication. We considered commonly held myths about hearing loss over the course of three months. We were given individual and group projects. The homework was supposed to be stress free.
The third course was on “Practical Audiology for Consumers” where we learned about how sound travels, different parts of the ear, and its functions. We spent a lot of time on different kinds of hearing tests. The purpose of each of these tests was explained. We had to know the layman terms for the different parts of the ear. For example, “ear drum” is really called the tympanic membrane. I needed to learn how to pronounce them before I used them. We had a good idea of the purpose of each test. Most of us recalled taking these tests. One of the nicest things we shared was our own hearing loss audiograms with each other. I also shared my experience about getting a cochlear implant.
The next course was “Biopsychosocial Aspect of Hearing Loss” where we had to read the book called Shouting Won’t Help by Katharine Boulton. The book talks about grieving, crisis, and her experience with aural rehab. In the book, it explains about different communication strategies. As a peer mentor it is important to learn to be assertive and have good communication behaviors. We learned about different communication techniques for family and loved ones. During this time one colleague was struggling with her hearing loss. She decided to explore the possible of getting a cochlear implant. She had the surgery and was activated. The rest of us were there in spirit and gave moral support along the way. She was ever thankful for us being there for her. Another had a better understanding about assistive listening devices that work with her hearing aids. She worked with her audiologist and got the assistive listening devices she wanted and loves them.
The last course was “Peer Mentoring for Hearing Loss” where we were given different case studies on how we would solve problems and what our approach would be.
We could not believe that two years had gone by so fast. With COVID-19, we were able share some of our frustrations. We could not get together for the last time on the Gallaudet campus for our graduation. We got together via Zoom for the whole weekend. The graduation came and went. We did it!
The strange thing is that we didn’t want it to end. We agreed that we shall get together to celebrate in person when it is safe to do so, which we hope will be at the HLAA convention in Tampa in 2022. We decided to have Happy Hour monthly just to keep in touch in the meantime. We are still digesting how we are going to proceed in the future as a “Certified Peer Mentor”.