INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Imagine a couple of 7-year-old friends
laughing, playing, and frolicking around, but they can’t communicate
with each other.
There’s a language barrier. One friend is deaf. One friend is hearing.
This was a very real scenario for Vincennes University student
Rachel Neff. She was the hearing friend.
“We loved to hang out together, but I didn’t know sign
language,” Neff says. “We both were frustrated 7-year-olds. We were
frustrated that we couldn’t communicate with each other.”
Fast-forward to a teenage Neff, who grew up in Fort Wayne,
Indiana. Offered the opportunity to learn American Sign Language as a
home-schooled high school student, she jumped at the chance.
“That lit a fire,” she says. “I just really loved it. It became
The strong interest led her to enroll in the VU American Sign
Language and Deaf Studies program, a fully immersive educational
environment located on the campus of the Indiana School for the Deaf
in Indianapolis. VU ASL and Deaf Studies faculty are deaf and they are
native signers of American Sign Language.
Neff chose VU’s program because she wanted a fully immersive
environment and she has thrived in it.
She will complete an associate degree in American Sign Language
and Deaf Studies this week at Commencement on May 9 at the Indiana
School for the Deaf.
Neff has the highest grade point average among the Class of
Dr. Cynthia Sanders, chair of VU’s ASL and Deaf Studies
program, recognized Neff’s potential early. She was her first deaf teacher.
“I knew from day one she would excel in her learning,” Sanders
says. “Rachel is a very well-rounded student who is very motivated in
learning ASL and socializing with Deaf people.”
VU ASL and Deaf Studies students learn and interact with native
signers. This aspect was one of the main reasons Neff was attracted to
“It was definitely a little scary at first,” Neff says. “All my
professors here are Deaf. I definitely feel like I’m getting a
fantastic education through the immersion. It helps you grow
significantly faster and build up that skill set. You are not allowed
to talk. As a student, you learn to work around your lack of
vocabulary. You gesture. You write it. You work together. That builds
more than just language skills. It builds people skills. It also gives
you more cultural awareness and experience.”
The next step in turning her passion for ASL into a
professional career is earning a baccalaureate degree from IUPUI in
ASL/English Interpreting. Neff hasn’t decided what area of
interpreting she wants to pursue, although she is interested in the
“She overcame many challenges with a positive attitude,”
Sanders says. “Her passion working with Deaf people prevails through
her academic performance and socialization with deaf people in the
community. These qualities are a perfect stepping stone for her to
pursue her studies as an interpreter at IUPUI. I am delighted that she
accomplished a lot in a very short time and is ready to move on to
creating a new chapter - to be a professional interpreter with Deaf
people in the community.”
VU AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE AND DEAF STUDIES PROGRAM
American Sign Language and Deaf Studies is an intensive
two-year program designed to prepare students to pursue a
baccalaureate degree in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies
interpreting or provide for a foundation in careers that serve deaf
individuals. The program is located on the campus of the Indiana
School for the Deaf in Indianapolis, and faculty are deaf and native
signers who have taken intensive training in teaching. The curriculum
provides for full immersion through learning-centered instruction both
inside and outside the classroom. The unique location of the program
allows for involvement and collaboration with deaf students and the
vibrant Deaf Community of Indianapolis.