sealPurdue Business, Finance & Technology Briefs

October 1997

Business majors opt for sign language classes

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of a demonstration of American Sign Language is available. Ask for the photo 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.

"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."

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."

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.

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

Purdue business course makes students cyber-savvy

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A new course in electronic commerce at Purdue University's Krannert Graduate School of Management is preparing students to do business in the 21st century.

The course is taught by visiting professor Patrick Duparcq, who also teaches the course at Northwestern University and runs a distance learning lab at Tilberg University in the Netherlands. Duparcq says that there aren't very many courses in electronic commerce being taught right now, but they soon will become a mainstay at business schools worldwide.

"Some of the programs in electronic commerce that I am aware of are here at Purdue and at MIT, Northwestern, Duke, Stanford and at the University of Texas at Austin," Duparcq says. "But the demand for such courses will grow based on market needs."

For example, in his book, "What Will Be," Michael Dertouzos, the director of the computer science laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicts that by the year 2015, 50 percent of the U.S. gross national product could be directly related to electronic commerce.

"That tells me that we're in for quite a change in the way we do business," Duparcq says.

Duparcq does not agree with those who say the Internet hasn't proven itself yet as a major tool of choice for business and communication in the next century.

"In the past three years, we have experienced a shift in the demographics of people who are on-line, from 95 percent male to a nearly 65-35 ratio of males to females," Duparcq says. "And that's promising news for on-line marketers and advertisers. Also, the fact that companies like Dell computer are conducting $2.5 million worth of transactions on the Internet each day indicates a hearty future for commerce on the Internet."

Another indicator of a robust forecast for electronic commerce is the use of the Internet for advertising.

"There are one-and-a-half to two times more advertising dollars spent on the Internet than there were on cable television when it was new," Duparcq says.

Students in Duparcq's course will study the nature of interactive media, how traditional marketing and market research principles are adapted for the Internet, security issues and laws and regulations.

CONTACT: Duparcq (765) 494-4461; e-mail,

Purdue study suggests marrying for love and money

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- What do married people have at retirement that divorced and never-married persons don't? A lot more money.

A Purdue University study sheds new light on the old practice of marrying for money. "Marriage has a lot to do with wealth accumulation," says Janet Wilmoth, assistant professor of sociology. "Getting and staying married appears to provide institutional benefits that greatly impact long-term economic well-being."

The study was based on a national survey of more than 7,000 households that included at least one preretirement person age 51 to 61.

"In later life, people who had never married had only 14 percent of the financial assets that married persons had accumulated. Divorced people who did not remarry had only 15 percent," Wilmoth says.

Even when divorced persons and surviving spouses remarried, they still didn't make up as much ground financially as those persons who had been continuously married. And, Wilmoth says, the negative effects are greater when a marriage ends due to divorce. "Those who were divorced and remarried had about 65 percent as many assets and surviving spouses who remarried had 73 percent," Wilmoth says.

She says the potential financial benefits of marriage include home ownership; insurance coverage for spouses; survivor pension benefits; and increased rates of saving. "Continuous marriage is more important to acquiring housing equity than other types of assets," she says.

The study findings were presented at the 1997 North Central Sociological Association's annual meeting.

CONTACT: Wilmoth, (765) 494-4676; e-mail,

Experts: Public will accept irradiation in wake of meat recall

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Hudson Foods hamburger recall may be just what it takes to convince Americans that it's time to accept irradiation as another technique to safeguard their food supply, two Purdue experts say.

Irradiation is little used and a lot misunderstood, but it can destroy the microorganisms responsible for food-borne illnesses and extend the shelf life of perishable foods. It is an FDA-regulated food preservation method using gamma radiation. It's currently used on foods such as spices, pork, poultry, and some fruits and vegetables. The FDA is considering approval for red meats.

Research shows irradiation poses no concern to consumers. "Decades of research on the safety of food irradiation show no changes to the food that are different from any other type of heat processing," says April Mason, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service assistant director and a foods and nutrition specialist.

"It's really hard to process raw meat without getting some contamination on it, but if it's irradiated, the bacteria are killed," she says. "Irradiation is one more safety precaution. It's not in lieu of other safety precautions, such as proper cooking, but irradiation destroys the organism before it reaches the consumer."

Richard Linton, Purdue Extension specialist in food safety, says, "Cooking and irradiation are perhaps the only existing ways today to get rid of microorganisms on food."

An instance where irradiation would have been particularly helpful, Mason explains, was last spring when microbial organisms on strawberries and raspberries -- foods that often aren't cooked -- caused an outbreak of food-borne illness.

It also might have avoided the Hudson Foods recall of 25 million pounds of red meat, including hamburger patties, that may have been contaminated with E. coli , a microorganism that can cause illness and even death in those who consume it.

Linton says, "If I had a crystal ball that could predict the future, I'd say the Hudson hamburger incident may lead to consumer acceptance of irradiation in the next four or five years."

Mason agrees and adds: "Data show that consumers will accept food irradiation when they learn about it and taste irradiated food."

CONTACTS: Mason, (765) 494-8252; e-mail,, or Linton, (765) 494-6481; e-mail,

Compiled by Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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