Department of Linguistics

Meet Linguistics Alumni


Karen J. Yarumian, M.S., CCC-SLP, New England Rehabilitation Hospital

Karen graduated in 2007 with a B.A. in Linguistics, concentrating in Speech and Language Science. She earned her M.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders in 2009 at the University of New Hampshire. Now a licensed Speech Language Pathologist, Karen works at New England Rehabilitation Hospital, an acute care facility that specializes in recovery of patients with neurological disorders and injuries. She is responsible for assessment, diagnosis, planning, treatment, and education of patients and their families on disorders that may include speech, language, cognition, communication, voice, swallowing and fluency. Karen reports: “My B.A. in Linguistics provided a firm understanding of language, which is essential in my ability to diagnose and treat individuals with communication disorders. The curriculum at USM enabled me to enter a professional career that I find highly rewarding; I help individuals improve their level of function and return to home, work and their community.”

Darcy ChaseDarcy (Wheeler) Chase, M.A., Director of English Studies, Gould Academy

Darcy earned her B.A. in Linguistics at USM in 2000. She went on to participate in the USM Extended Teacher Education Program and earned her Maine State Teacher’s license in 2002. She completed her Master’s in Teaching and Learning at USM in 2005. After teaching middle school for several years, she became the Director of the English Studies Program at Gould Academy, a college preparatory boarding school that serves a number of international students. She is certified by the ACTFL as an Oral Proficiency Interview Rater. She regularly attends professional conferences and has presented her work at a NNETESOL Conference. “As a student in the Linguistics program," she says, "I learned to think and read critically, analyze and write effectively. I appreciated the opportunity to do research, to attend lectures by visiting linguists and to go to a Linguistics conference at Boston University. The linguistics coursework provided me with a solid foundation in the science of language - this is critical knowledge in my work as a language teacher, particularly since my students’ first languages vary greatly. Professors Wayne Cowart and Dana McDaniel have had a strong influence on me in my development as a scholar and as a teacher.”

Lisa Trainor, BA Linguistics with ASL/English Interpreting, University of Southern Maine

As a native Mainer, I was among one of the first graduating classes of the Linguistics Department's program concentrating in ASL/English interpreting in 2004. After entering USM in 1999 as an undeclared student with a strong interest in biology, I took ASL 1 to start the fulfillment of my two-semester language requirement. Upon finishing the required two semesters, I found myself drawn to the language and the culture and pursued a third semester. There, in a more conversational setting, I realized that learning a new language was possible for the first time in my life. The interpreter training program was still on the horizon and at the end of my third semester, I decided to look into it as a real possibility. Impressed by the dedication of the instructors and the low teacher/student ratio I decided to declare linguistics as my major, with a concentration in ASL/English interpreting. The instructors in the program, who were also professionals in the field, held students to a high standard preparing us for life after college. They were constantly working to teach not only interpreting skills, but also the idea of responsibility of the role of the interpreter and the ever-changing demands in the field. They challenged typical thinking of what the profession meant, and what it meant to be professional. Through hard work and honest feedback and encouragement to work in the Deaf community before becoming an interpreter, the ITP at USM prepared me to enter the world of interpreting.

Nick Dionne, BA Linguistics with ASL/English Interpreting, University of Southern Maine

Nick Dionne smilingMy journey through USM's interpreter education program was an amazing, eye-opening experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I was taught by incredible instructors who care about their students and the interpreting field at large. They actively worked to engage me in learning and presented me with opportunities and experiences that would enrich my professional growth. I always felt like I could come to them with questions, feedback or just to talk about life. USM does great things for their interpreting students and has earned their reputation and accreditation. I work as a freelance sign language interpreter throughout southern Maine but have put that on hold for the time being. I am currently traveling for work through 2015 and 2016.

Kevin Martinho, BA Linguistics with ASL/English Interpreting, University of Southern Maine

I enrolled at USM in the Fall of 2012. After my advisor looked over my transcripts and my work experience, she suggested that I take a couple linguistics courses. This guidance really helped me to connect with the right people. I will always remember the courses I took at USM because the experience truly contributed to my growth and understanding of American Sign Language and ASL/English interpreting. This solidified my decision to major in Linguistics with a concentration in ASL/English interpreting.

One teacher I would especially like to mention is Judy Shepard-Kegl of the linguistics department. She devoted a lot of her time to sit with me and help me understand the subject matter. As a sprightly older student, I had the privilege to work with a Deaf mentor because of Judy. My Deaf mentor really pushed me to try harder and think more creatively. We continue to keep in contact and bounce ideas around. I graduated from USM with a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics and History in 2014.  Now, I am a Deaf Interpreter while preparing to take my certification, as well as an ASL teacher at USM.

Janet Vail, BA Linguistics with ASL/English Interpreting, University of Southern Maine

I graduated from USM in 2002 with a BA in Linguistics in the ASL/English Interpreting Track.  Studying linguistics gave me an appreciation for all languages and a special appreciation for ASL.  As an older student, my college experience was unique and rewarding.  I learned a great deal from Dana and Wayne, and especially Judy, who is still a mentor to me today.  My classmates were peer mentors to me as we learned how to process language and offer constructive feedback based on the work, as well as sharing our experiences.  This structure provided a strong foundation in shaping peer-mentoring opportunities to date.

I am a “part-time” freelance interpreter; most of my work is contracted through agencies.  I am RID certified and I have credentials in educational interpreting, EIPA, elementary and secondary.  Religious interpreting is not only close to my heart but is the reason I decided to become an interpreter.  My interpreting focus right now is in the medical and mental health fields.

Interpreting has been a great journey so far.  I love what I do and look forward to opportunities to work with colleagues and to learn alongside them in workshops and seminars.

Rebecca Breton, BA Linguistics with ASL/English Interpreting, University of Southern Maine

I have heard it often said that sometimes people are born to do certain things.  Upon finding out what I do for a living the follow up question, more often than not is "What fascinating did you get into that?" to which I answer honestly "I have no idea". 

Growing up in a small town in central Maine I had no exposure to the deaf community and there was no history of deafness in my family yet the community, their language and my future involvement in it was solidified in my mind from a very young age.  As a little girl  I told my mother I wanted to "play with Deaf children".  Over the years that desire naturally evolved into wanting to be a Teacher of the Deaf to finally, in my senior year of high school, deciding that I wanted to become an Interpreter. As I could not find an Interpreter Training Program close to home, I arrived on campus at the University of Southern Maine in the fall of 1996 as undeclared freshman hoping to get into a few sign language classes and figure it out. "Figuring it out" came in the form of Judy Kegl's arrival at University of Southern Maine and the inception of the Interpreter Training Program.  Over the next four years I proceeded to take every ASL, Interpreting, and Linguistic class offered graduating as the very first and ONLY member of the degree in 2001.  In the years since I have taken and successfully passed three national certification exams and have enjoyed many years in the educational, free lance and video relay service fields of the profession.  Much of the success I experience today I attribute to the education and guidance I received while at USM.

Jennifer Welch, BA Linguistics with ASL/English Interpreting, University of Southern Maine


In the fall of 2003, I enrolled in USM to become a Social Worker. After one semester, Judy Kegl suggested (and really she encouraged) for me to become a Deaf interpreter. Judy explained the need for Deaf interpreters to accommodate persons with limited language unique signing styles, and other needs. After having this discussion with her, I changed my major to Linguistics. Brenda Schertz, former professor, also played a key part in my education. She mentored while I was taking her class, and this mentoring gave me the opportunity to sub for her classes. This was rewarding and helpful toward my professional development. Because of this, I realized the options I had for the future: I could be an ASL teacher, Interpreter, and mentor for the hearing students in the ITP program. Honestly, during my time at USM, I realized that though my first language is ASL, English has many parallels. This was an eye-opener for me.  I am so thankful for all the support and mentoring I received while working towards my degree.

In the summer, May of 2008, I graduated.  I am currently working as a Deaf interpreter and working towards my certification. My job is so rewarding and challenging; I enjoy the variation and all that I learn. Language is very intriguing to me and pushes me to the limits in interpreting.

Cynthia Young, BA Linguistics with ASL/English Interpreting, University of Southern Maine

In the Spring of 1998, I left my job at an insurance company due to discrimination. However, that may have been a blessing. You know what they say “When one door closes another opens." Because I had no back up plan after giving my two weeks’ notice, I went to a Temp agency, which then referred me to work part –time for 2 months at Pine Tree Society as an Administrative Assistant.  Fortunately, this became a full time position. This is where I was exposed to American Sign Language and Deaf Culture.   Here is where my journey began. I was intrigued by the language and honestly everyone in the office was bilingual except me.  I also wanted to communicate with my Deaf co-worker without always having someone to interpret, but most of all I felt it was the most respectful thing to do.

 In 1999, I enrolled in Portland Adult Education to learn the basics of ASL, then in 2000 I started taking classes at USM. One thing lead to another and the journey became bigger. I wanted to become an ASL/English Interpreter. Of course, there was encouragement from my peers and colleagues. Judy Kegl was very supportive and played a key role in my journey in getting my degree in Linguistics. In February of 2006, I became matriculated. There are so many people to thank during these tough and challenging times! Dana was always supportive. I learned so much from her and Wayne too. The students were awesome. Teachers were always supportive. In a nut shell: “they were all mentors." Most of all the Deaf community was my greatest teacher. Finally in May, 2012 I graduated.

This Journey is far from over; I continue to strive to be the best qualified interpreter I can be. My passion is medical and mental health. However, I enjoy all settings. Interpreting is my passion. I continue to be involved in workshops and any professional development. Kudos to USM for providing some of these workshops, they have helped me grow in many ways.  Today, I am still employed at Pine Tree Society.

Because of my experience at USM, I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in becoming an ASL interpreter to enroll in the ITP program.

Christian C. Evans, Language Engineer, Creative Virtual 

Christian graduated in 2014 with a B.A. in General Linguistics. He now works as the Language Engineer for Creative Virtual, a company in the natural language processing field that creates and maintains virtual agents for customer service applications. He is responsible for the collection and maintenance of words, dialect differences and configuration of language used in NLP processes across all projects, as well as direct authoring on specific projects. “My B.A. in linguistics provided me a wealth of information on a subject I was passionate about and provided me a strong understanding of language, which I use daily. The curriculum at USM was fantastic for preparing me in a wide variety of ways and encouraged me to explore topics, which has certainly helped me in my current position. The department was filled with knowledgeable and encouraging professors and allowed me to participate in many things, such as Thinking Matters or the language exchange I participated in with Dr. Conor Quinn. Professors Dana McDaniel and Wayne Cowart had a profound impact on my college experience and helped mold me into a lifelong learner.”