sealPurdue Education & Career Briefs

September 1997

Demand high for college sign language classes

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of an American Sign language instructor is available. It's called Brentari.ASL.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University has doubled the number of instructors teaching American Sign Language on its West Lafayette campus this year, but for every student enrolled in a class, two to three more are turned away.

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"This is not a unique situation," says Diane Brentari, an American Sign Language linguist who leads the program at Purdue. "Demand for college-level sign language classes is increasing nationally, but every state and every university handles its courses differently."

At Purdue, the American Sign Language Program is based in the Department of Audiology and Speech Sciences. All eight sections being offered this fall are filled to capacity, meaning 160 students got the class they requested. Brentari estimates that as many as 400 more students did not.

A few years ago, the majority of students signed up for these classes were speech, education or nursing majors. But starting in the fall of 1993, the university approved sign language for foreign language credit, and demand for classes soared.

"Signing is a language that is indigenous to the United States," Brentari says. "Students realize that in this country they are likely to run into a deaf person during the course of their everyday lives."

Students learning American Sign Language have similar difficulties as those learning any foreign language. "Signing and reading someone else's signs are two very different skills, just as speaking a foreign language is different from being able to understand it," Brentari explains. And because signing is visual and gestural, she says, it offers a different perspective on language learning.

She says the classes have always been a popular option for future educators and health care professionals, but now business majors are starting to jump on the bandwagon.

"Not only do students see American Sign Language as a skill that will really stand out on their resume -- but businesses are also beginning to recognize the marketing opportunities with this particular population," Brentari says. "Deaf people are consumers, too."

CONTACT: Brentari, (765) 494-3789; e-mail, brentari

On-line writing lab spanning the globe, setting standards

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Dangling participle dilemma ... problem with punctuation ... thanks to the Internet, thousands solve their own writing problems every day using on-line writing labs.

Purdue University's on-line writing lab, or OWL, was the first in the country. Between January and May of this year, it received 885,930 visits, or 7,000 hits each day, from writers looking for help on-line.

"It's baffling how important this resource has become," Muriel Harris, professor of English and Purdue's writing lab director, says. "We needed something to serve our students, but now we help businessmen around the world who have questions about English as a second language, teachers in rural communities who use our handouts because they don't have books, and other universities that are establishing their own OWLs."

The Web page originally was created as an extension of the university's writing lab. "This lab has grown from two desks to three rooms since 1976, but we had a little case of 'doctor syndrome' before we went on-line -- people had to come to us," Harris says. "Many weren't able to get in here during our office hours. Now we can serve our students 24 hours a day."

Jon Bush, OWL coordinator, says the Web site also is serving other English professors who are trying to create their own on-line labs at their universities.

"We were the first on-line writing lab in the country, so others come to us for help. Within our site is a resource page that is considered a 'must-see' in the industry. It contains an annotated bibliography of research articles on OWLs. It gets over 2,000 hits each semester," Bush says.

"It's pretty amazing to be part of a Web site that is truly international. We are sharing knowledge with anyone, anywhere. There are some school corporations that don't have the money for books but receive grants for computers. This lab reaches out to people who wouldn't otherwise have access to this kind of help."

The site has received numerous awards, including a four-star rating by the Excite Web search program; four stars by Netguide, a Web review site; a "Best of the Net" award by EZ Connect; and four stars by Luckman Interactive.

Purdue's OWL is mentioned and pictured in various book and textbooks, including a textbook for college computer science classes and a high school textbook for college-bound students.

The Web site is at

CONTACTS: Harris, (765) 494-3723; e-mail,; Bush, (765) 494-3723; e-mail,

Charter schools slow overall reform, Purdue dean says

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color map from the Center for Education Reform, showing the status of charter schools in all 50 states, is available. It's called Haring.Charter.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The charter school movement is distracting state governments from implementing education reform for all students, says the dean of Purdue University's School of Education.

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"Charter schools would not be necessary if we took full advantage of research and practices that have documented what happens in effective schools," says Marilyn Haring, who is also a professor of counseling and development who specializes in education reform and educational equity. "We know what works, so let's concentrate on implementing those reforms in our existing schools."

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that receive special dispensation to operate outside of established school regulations. These schools are contracted, or "chartered," by a state as separate legal entities and are accountable for their results at the end of the contract period, which is typically three to five years.

"The idea is that because charter schools are not bound by bureaucracy and regulations, they can be more innovative," Haring explains. "But that same lack of regulation can also result in a school that is less accountable to students and their parents."

Parent and teacher groups with new ideas for school reform often initiate the process of setting up a charter school. Curriculums vary widely, with some schools chartered to emphasize "the three R's" and others offering unstructured learning environments such as those that draw heavily from the creative arts for class material.

Admission at a charter school is open to all students, but enrollment is typically limited because the schools are small. Twenty-six states now have legislation in place to set up charter schools; most such schools are in California, Arizona and Michigan.

Haring says the time, effort and money being put into charter schools is not only draining resources from existing facilities, but also is distracting educators from their goal of nationwide reform.

"Why should it take a charter to accomplish education reform?" Haring asks. "Research tells us smaller schools that emphasize parental involvement and a sense of community are more effective. We need the public to support sound educational practices even when it means tax increases so that more schools -- not just charter schools -- can be as good as we need them to be."

CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-2336; e-mail,

Career options multiply for math majors

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- College graduates with a gift for numbers and a degree in mathematics are finding employment in some very high-profile fields.

"The largest single employer of mathematicians in the United States is the National Security Agency, where many work in the field of cryptology," says Mary Ann Penney, an academic adviser who works with junior and senior math students at Purdue University. "They are the people who design and analyze numerical codes used to transmit classified or sensitive information. It's a very exciting area of work."

But it's not the job most students are thinking about when deciding on a college major.

"The mathematics career most obvious to the general public is teaching," Penney says. "But we have many students who wind up working for large companies. Employers like math majors because they know the students can think and will approach problems and challenges in a logical manner. There is also a growing demand for mathematicians in the area of finance."

Among the major companies that recruited future math graduates on Purdue's West Lafayette campus last year were 3-M Co., Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Microsoft Corp., Price Waterhouse IIP and Texas Instruments Systems Group. They were seeking operations research analysts, statisticians and inventory strategists. All branches of the armed forces also regularly look for job candidates with strong math skills for data analysis, submarine tracking and high-energy astrophysics programming.

Starting salaries for math graduates vary widely depending on the career they choose. For instance, those earning actuarial science degrees, which are granted jointly by the Purdue departments of mathematics and statistics, can expect starting salaries ranging from $29,000 to $45,000 a year.

"We had 100 percent placement of our actuarial science majors this past spring," Penney says. "Their initial compensation packages were comparable to the starting salaries for engineers."

Math majors who want to continue their education beyond an undergraduate degree find they have many choices, as well.

"A math degree is excellent preparation for graduate school in other disciplines such as computer science, physics, management, law or medicine," Penney says. "Purdue's program features lots of electives, so students frequently find they are able to add a second major or minor to their course of study. They end up with highly specialized skills, but they are also well-rounded. It makes them a good fit for the demands of the workplace."
CONTACT: Penney, (765) 494-1771; e-mail,

Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,


American Sign Language classes are filled to capacity at Purdue. This popular class provides a different perspective on learning a foreign language because it's visual and gestural, as instructor Donald Haring demonstrates. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Brentari.ASL
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Charter school status for each of the 50 states as of August, according to the Center for Education Reform. (Graphic used by permission.)
Color graphic, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Graphic ID: Haring.Charter
Download here.

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