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Interpreters Bridge Communication Gap for Penn State Berks Student

Interpreters Bridge Communication Gap for Penn State Berks Student

by Penn State Berks

Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Cullen

Jenny Jewell Kramer overcomes hearing challenges to work toward degree.

Jenny Jewell Kramer never dreamed that she could attend college, much less earn a degree. But that’s exactly what she’s doing at Penn State Berks with the assistance of interpreters from Keystone Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (KDHHS) and support from the college.

Kramer was born to hearing parents in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. “I grew up in the ’70s, and my parents didn’t feel it was necessary for me to learn sign language. It’s common for some hearing parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children to want their children to be hearing. I was mainstreamed in ‘hearing’ schools and raised with speech therapists since I was 3, but the problem was no matter how hard I tried to learn to speak or read lips, I still could not hear my teachers. I felt very alone,” Kramer said.

After high school, Kramer conducted research and learned that Portland, Oregon, had great services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. “So, I moved to Portland. I met a deaf counselor who inspired and encouraged me to try college,” she said. “She informed me of my rights to have interpreters in class.”

Kramer was accepted into Portland Community College, where she worked with sign language interpreters. “The experience ultimately changed my life: It enabled me to understand what my professors and classmates were saying,” she said. “My interpreters paved a portal into the education system that generated my thirst for knowledge. I discovered my love for literature and writing.”

In the midst of her educational journey, Kramer moved back to Sinking Spring, where she is assisting with caring for her senior parent. But she didn’t give up on her dreams of earning a degree. She enrolled at Reading Area Community College and earned an associate degree in creative writing in 2022. Not only did she earn an associate degree, but she also graduated cum laude.

Kramer did not stop there: She decided to pursue a baccalaureate degree. That’s when she met Christian Weisser, professor of English and program chair of the Penn State Berks writing and digital media program.

“Dr. Weisser has been an inspiration and mentor to me throughout my studies here,” Kramer stated. “One of my goals is to write articles and maybe go into journalism. I did an internship for Dr. Weisser’s class, working for Keystone Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (KDHHS).”

In fact, Kramer wrote an article about her experiences at Penn State Berks and the assistance she received along the way from KDHHS and the college for the March 2024 issue of Berks County Living magazine.

“I want to be an inspiration to others who are deaf and hard of hearing through my articles,” Kramer said.

Kramer also praises Lisa Zackowski, coordinator of Student Disability Services at the Berks campus, for the support she has received at Penn State. “Lisa is also an inspiration and mentor to me too: She is the one who coordinates the interpreters for me for my classes,” Kramer said.

When asked what it’s like to take classes with an interpreter, Kramer said, “It’s a dream come true! I can finally understand what my teachers and classmates are saying through sign language.”

Kramer wants to find a career in which she can work with other deaf and hard-of-hearing students and let them know that they are not alone, and if she can earn a degree, they can, too.

“Ultimately, my goal via writing is to reach out to other deaf and hard-of-hearing people to let them know how Penn State supports these individuals and provides interpreters to help break down the communication barriers and enable them to achieve their dream of earning a degree,” said Kramer. “I can’t express how thankful I am to Penn State Berks for helping me overcome the obstacles I have experienced in the past.”

“I truly am so thankful that they support diversity and are inclusive of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. At the same time, I’m so thankful for KDHHS for their interpreters who helped open the doors for me as a deaf student at Penn State.”