Hand in hand: Unique internship benefits MC student, alum

July 31, 2003
David Rasnake, Communications Assistant

“I didn’t tell my mom about this one,” laughs Helen Tadsen.

Tadsen, who will begin her junior year at Maryville College in the fall, is talking about a summer internship at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Deaf Wellness Center in Rochester, N.Y. The Alpharetta, Ga., native knew she was interested in the work that the Center was doing; she also knew that Rochester was a long way from home.

But sometimes everything just falls into place.
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A Sign Language Interpreting major at the College, Tadsen first heard about Maryville when she was 13; a sign language interpreter in her hometown recommended Maryville College’s interpreting and Deaf studies programs to Tadsen, who was already taking sign-language lessons. Years later, when she decided to pursue sign language interpreting in college, Maryville, one of a handful of colleges and universities in the nation to offer a bachelor’s degree program in the field, was a natural choice.

Tadsen first heard about the work of College alumna Robyn Dean at the Deaf Wellness Center from a lab instructor in one of her classes. When Tadsen began searching for a summer internship to help fulfill the 400 of applied internship credit required by her major, working at the Center entered the mix as a possibility. But it seemed an unlikely choice behind a number of others in cities closer to home.

Slowly, the long shot became the frontrunner. Tadsen contacted Dean, a researcher and faculty interpreter with the Deaf Wellness Center and a 1990 graduate of Maryville College, about the possibility of interning at the Center. Dean was enthusiastic, and when summer rolled around Helen Tadsen found herself a thousand miles from home in what once seemed the most unlikely of places.

“Everything just came together.”

A new approach

“ This is a new approach that we’re piloting,” says Dean about her work at the Deaf Wellness Center. Dean, who is supervising Tadsen’s internship, is making a name for herself in her field thanks to some cutting-edge research that supports her new way of thinking about the work of a sign language interpreter.

Dean, who joined the faculty of the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1999, noticed a documented trend toward early career burnout and stress-related injuries within the sign language interpreting profession. Using a model for understanding on-the-job stress termed “demand-control theory,” Dean and fellow researcher Dr. Robert Pollard worked to understand the high incidence of job burnout and stress-related illness among sign language interpreters.

With grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), Dean and Pollard designed a highly practical approach to interpreter education. In light of the challenges of interpreting work, this new program (currently being tested at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville) seeks to balance classroom sign language learning with situational experience.

For example, the five-course program offers a Medical Interpreting course, in which students are asked to observe medical professionals in interactions with hearing patients; through such observation, students gain basic medical knowledge and a better understanding of typical interactions between doctors and patients. Through situation-specified training, the interpreters of tomorrow will enter the work force with a more complete knowledge of the different challenges faced in specific work settings.

The program, like those in medicine and other practice professions, helps interpreters learn to make their own decisions in a controlled environment, as a doctor learns similar decision-making skills during a residency. In turn, Dean hopes that this combination of training in self-evaluation and situational content through these “sneak previews” will improve interpreters’ translation skills, overall professional judgment and ability to cope with the demands of the job.

Learning in the real world

So what’s a typical day like at the Deaf Wellness Center? The best answer to this question might be, simply, that there are no “typical” days.

On some days, Tadsen “scrubs in” at the University of Rochester Medical Center and goes to work, shadowing a deaf surgeon and her interpreter to learn as much as she can about the occupational challenges of interpreting for a deaf professional. The next day, she might be called upon to interpret for a deaf patient or observe one of the hospitals staff interpreters.

In any given week Tadsen gets a chance to see what goes on in nearly every part of the hospital. And by paying close attention to the ways in which doctors and patients interact, Tadsen leaves more thoroughly prepared for the situations she may face as an interpreter in the “real world.”

Throughout, Dean is there help Tadsen connect what she is learning through experience to her future career. “Helen is exposed to a variety of experiences every day,” observes Dean. “I make sure that she’s spending enough time thinking about them and learning from them.”

Given the hectic nature of work in a hospital, finding time to reflect requires discipline. Yet, the chance to witness first-hand the pace at which a large hospital operates can also be considered one of the most valuable elements of Tadsen’s internship. Being flexible enough to adapt to the instability of medical work is a useful skill in any number of professions, and Tadsen seems to take all the hustle and bustle in stride.

“It can be pretty unpredictable, but also very exciting.”

Endless possibilities

“ When Helen contacted me,” Dean states, “we didn’t have a formal internship set up.” Although the Deaf Wellness Center and the hospital employ several full-time interpreters, an internship for students interested in the Center’s work and research was not established. By offsetting the expenses of hosting an internship, the College’s new Lilly Summer Internship program is making valuable experiences like Tadsen’s a reality.

Funded through a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. that the College received in 2001, the Lilly Summer Internship is supporting internships for 10 Maryville College students in its first summer. Internships cover the costs of housing during the summer and pay a stipend to each student-intern.

By covering the expenses of an internship, the program allows students to get hands-on experience in work environments where established internships may be difficult to find. And because each student is responsible for arranging his or her internship, the possibilities for tailoring the program to the student’s interests are endless, according to Tracy Gartmann, director of the College’s Center for Calling and Career (CC&C).

“ I am delighted about the students’ enthusiasm to become involved in a summer work situation that helps discern a vocation,” Gartmann states. “Students have a wide variety of ideas about summer placements, and the opportunities are out there, all over the country in any career field.”

Administered by the CC&C, the Summer Internship Program requires students to keep a journal and meet one-on-one with Center staff to discuss and assess the program. Throughout, Gartmann notes, the experience helps students to discern what their vocational interests are.

“ Reflection is key. Students often do not take the time needed to do thoughtful reflection about their experiences. But this program has, in essence, reflection built into its structure and process.”

Reflecting carefully on lessons learned during her internship has already begun to pay off for Tadsen, who is also considering a career in counseling. Working up close with professionals and patients has, according to Tadsen, “sensitized me to what goes on in these settings.

“ The experiences I’ve had are invaluable. I feel like I have a little jump start.”

And in many ways, she does. Tadsen’s experiences in Rochester have given her a “real-world” understanding of sign language interpreting and the latest research in the field; hopefully, she will come away from the experience with a clearer understanding of her own vocational interests as well.

Sometimes, everything really does come together.

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Are you interested in mentoring current Maryville College students and young alumni as they consider careers, issues of vocation, and how to “make a life” while also “making a living”? The Center for Calling & Career and the Maryville College Office of Advancement are currently seeking qualified alumni to provide support, advice and even internships for younger members of the College community. To learn more about the MC Mentors program, contact Tracy Gartmann at 865.273.8851, or by email, tracy.gartmann@maryvillecollege.edu.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester is 1,168.