WPCC Alum Finds Her Way to A New Career

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Kay Smith

Morganton, N.C. – Beginning college mid-life isn’t the typical path taken by most students, but that was the unlikely route Kay Smith found herself on. At the age of 42, Smith’s job was outsourced and sent overseas. The years of production sewing had been good to her financially, but she was ready for a change and seized the opportunity to go to college through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which paid for her two-year degree in full.

“You are never too old to go back to school and start a new career,” said Smith. And that’s exactly what she did.

Smith found herself talking with an advisor at Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC) and discussing what degree to pursue. The advisor mentioned the American Sign Language interpreter education program, and Smith knew this was what she wanted to do. Her love of the language began back in the 80s after taking a class in high school.

“I cherish the skills and knowledge I gained from the interpreter education program,” said Smith.

In 2010, Smith graduated WPCC with an Associate in Applied Science, and worked as a part-time interpreter for the college. Afterwards, she became a freelance interpreter before landing a position as a business relations representative working on the deaf and hard of hearing caseload for the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

“I am in my position today not only from all my hard work, but also from the support, advice and encouragement I received from the deaf community, colleagues, and Danette Steelman-Bridges, the coordinator/instructor of the interpreter program at WPCC,” said Smith.

Breann Talent, Kay Smith, and Joy Boyd teaching ASL at Lowes Hardware in Hickory, NC

Kay Smith (center) teaching ASL to employees at Lowes Hardware, Hickory NC. Also pictured: Breann Talent (left); WPCC interpreting intern and Joy Boyd (right); Business Relations Representative NC Vocational Rehabilitation.

In her position, she assists consumers that are deaf or hard of hearing, find and keep employment. These job placement services include providing assistance with completing applications, preparing resumes and cover letters, conducting mock interviews, teaching appropriate workplace behavior, and other related tasks.  She is also responsible for contacting, scheduling, and hiring sign language interpreters. Smith’s experience as an interpreter has been very beneficial in training staff how to work with an interpreter, the role of an interpreter, and training employers in these areas as well.  She is also an advocate for hiring those that are deaf or hard of hearing, and provides training to employers on hearing loss, deaf culture, and basic sign language.  These classes help bridge the communication gap between the hearing world and the deaf world.

“I truly love my job as a business relations representative because it allows me to work directly with the deaf community using the skills I learned in my program. I have also been able to give back to the interpreting program by encouraging my employer to be a host site for interns in which I have supervised for two semesters,” said Smith.

WPCC offers an Associate in Applied Science degree in interpreter education and prepares students to work as entry-level sign language interpreters who will provide communication access in interview and interactive settings. In addition, this curriculum provides in-service training for working interpreters who want to upgrade their skills.  For more information on the A.A.S. in Interpreter Education, please contact Danette Steelman-Bridges at 828.448.6028 or at dsbridges@wpcc.edu.