Speaking up for deaf education

Name: Jason Lestina
Major: Public relations and rhetorical advocacy (previously computer graphics technology)
Year: Junior
Hometown: Fishers, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Nicoletta Adamo-Villani, associate professor, Computer Graphics Technology

His research: Jason developed a software program called Animation Speaks Louder aimed at addressing deaf education in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. Now, Jason is working on another tool that will be used to teach math using the same program. “I am responsible for animating about 300 signs that we have in our database. Also, I’m the sign language expert.”

The impact: Once the final product is complete, Jason hopes to be able to distribute it to educators who teach deaf students in order to make a difference in the lives of the hearing impaired.

A feather in the cap: Already, Jason has presented his work at national conferences. He presented at Siggraph, the most prestigious conference in computer graphics and interactive techniques. Additionally his project, Animation Speaks Louder, took top prize ($10,000) at the 2010 National Idea to Product Competition for Social Entrepreneurship. “Many of the judges came up to me at the end and told me that in their six or seven years of judging the competition, my presentation was the best they had ever seen. That was a huge confidence booster for me!”

Actions speak louder: Jason was born to deaf parents, which makes him a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA). Even before learning to speak, he had learned American Sign Language. “Technically, English is my second language. I am happy that I have had the opportunity to be a part of both the deaf culture and hearing culture.”

Winners never quit: After he graduates, Jason wants to continue to work to improve lives of the hearing impaired. “This project has shown me that my true passion is helping deaf people. My current plan is to open a music venue that is aimed towards deaf people.”

Making a mark: Jason urges undergraduates to get involved in doing research. “I would say above everything else I have done at Purdue, above every class I have taken, the most important and influential thing has been this research. I have received recognition from across the country because of the opportunities that were presented to me because of this research. I think any kind of research that helps people is the most important research that can be done. Everyone should try to be involved in something like that.”

By Kinnari Sejpal