All Hands On Deck

Rina Clark teaching ASL
Rina Clark has blazed her own path at Gonzaga, particularly in helping design the first American Sign Language class.

November 03, 2023
Spirit Magazine

Clark Following Her Passion to Improve Student Experience

Rina Clark’s deaf neighbor spoke through sign language.

Clark’s interest in sign language began at the age of 9 so she could communicate with a deaf neighbor girl her age. But it wasn’t until she was an adult that she realized that being an interpreter was an actual profession. She enrolled in the interpreter training program at Spokane Falls Community College in 1988.

For 28 years the affable Clark has served as an interpreter, communicating life experiences through childbirths, legal proceedings, medical appointments and end-of-life situations. But the majority of her interpreting experience has been in higher education.

“Many people have joked that I should have at least 15 degrees by now,” says Clark.

“I was present for the milestones in many people’s lives. Although I’m only a medium of communication it sometimes gets very emotional,” she says.

She has been equally enraptured to have a major hand in developing Gonzaga’s first ASL program.

But first, let’s go back to 2016 when Clark earned her bachelor’s degree at Eastern Washington University in communication studies with a minor in disability studies.

She enjoyed a long and satisfying career as an interpreter but had long aspired to find full-time employment at Gonzaga, where she had served as a sign language interpreter for commencements, campaign announcements and lectures as an independent contractor.

“I always wanted to be a bigger part of the university community, not just a peripheral player. I love the Gonzaga ethos – cura personalis, a place from which graduates go forth and set the world on fire,” she says. 

So, through a temporary placement service she got work at GU, and soon thereafter served as full-time mail clerk, a job she worked for four years while earning her master’s in Communication and Leadership Studies with a college teaching concentration.

Part of her studies involved an internship in a communications-related field. She sought and was selected to serve Instructional Design & Delivery here at GU under Director Justin Marquis, which gave her the experience for a permanent position with IDD, where she now serves as an instructional technologist.

Chair and Professor of Organizational Leadership Kristine Hoover noticed Clark signing on campus with a student.

“It was after that I learned of the incredible impact she was making on campus in helping create an ASL program in Education that would meet a foreign language requirement,” Hoover says.

It turns out Clark was instructing an undergraduate student in ASL who became the first student to graduate with ASL as a foreign language.

Clark worked with Chair and Special Education Professor Kimberly Weber to develop the ASL 101 class at Gonzaga and is currently supporting another ASL instructor in developing ASL 102, which premieres this spring. Enrollment went from five to 11 and now two full sections of ASL, or 40 students. “Rina has led the way,” Weber says.

Clark still teaches one class of ASL and one in Communications Studies 100, while working fulltime in IDD, where her work is equally acknowledged.

“Rina has been an exceptional partner in helping this campus transition from Blackboard to Canvas,” Hoover says. “She makes sure students and faculty alike are supported so that students have a positive experience. I can’t say enough about her care and commitment, doing the heavy lifting during this transition.”

“It has been rewarding to have a hand in developing a new language program and in helping faculty better serve our students through IDD,” Clark says. “It’s nice having ‘both hands’ in the process.”

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