The National Center on Deafness (NCOD) at California State University, Northridge has been an important fixture on campus and a strong voice in the Deaf community for 50 years. Cathy McLeod, the new director, is starting the next half-century with big ideas to help the center empower students in the digital age.
McLeod, who began her directorship in July, has served deaf and hard-of-hearing students at CSUN and in the region for 15 years as the director for the federally funded Postsecondary Educational Programs Network 2 (pepnet 2). Pepnet 2 partners with other universities to provide stakeholder resources and training to increase access for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in postsecondary programs, and to support professionals to enhance retention, persistence and graduation rates for this targeted population. NCOD at CSUN is the lead institution for pepnet 2.
McLeod said she wants to continue her mission to support the CSUN campus. While her role in pepnet 2 was focused on providing resources to professionals working with deaf students, she is excited to be more involved with students as the center’s director.
“I wanted to have direct contact with the students and go down into the trenches with them with NCOD,” McLeod said. “I want to see how we can make improvements for some of our services and expand the number of students we serve. Ultimately, I’d like to see more successful outcomes for deaf and hard-of-hearing students upon graduation.”
McLeod said that means taking the pulse of the community and evaluating the ways NCOD is currently operating on campus, possibly through surveys and open forums with students, faculty and staff.
She noted that a majority of the center’s time is spent coordinating interpreting or captioning services for about 175 to 200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students each semester — a momentous task, as many students need these services for each of their classes. She said she hopes to make services more efficient by exploring current technology, such as using remote technology in the classroom.
McLeod also wants NCOD to do more than provide services and create a platform for student voices.
“I want something even more tangible than filling interpreters in the classroom,” McLeod said. “We need some stories to attach to those successes. If we’ve got the evidence to show why we are here, why we are successful, we will be able to support our students and staff. Their stories will translate out into the real world, and it will reinforce what we are doing here at NCOD and CSUN.”
Social media is important to today’s students, McLeod said, and she wants NCOD to engage them through that medium. “We need to digitize because we are dealing with digital natives now — the culture has changed,” she said.
Part of that culture change includes the challenges of transitioning from high school to university. In high school, students typically do not make their own arrangements for interpreting and captioning services, McLeod explained. She said she hopes that in college, students will gain self-advocacy skills and empower themselves to voice their needs.
“They have to speak up if they are not satisfied with the services they receive,” she said. “They have to express their frustration, their concerns, their struggles and say what is and is not effective. Everybody is different — it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Each one has their own unique preferences and abilities.”
McLeod said she hopes that sense of empowerment will continue into students’ professional lives after they graduate, and that NCOD can help tell their stories of success and keep the community inspired.
“The youth are our voice,” she said. “They drive us.”