Stories from Abroad – Deaf Education and Empowerment in Ethiopia

DeYan and student showing his art work“My trip to Ethiopia was one of the most eye opening experiences I have ever had. I was able to see and experience a different culture that many people don’t get to see. Working with the deaf children and leading art activities helped me improve my sign language ability and helped me to adapt to new situations, such as finding a new way to communicate to people who don’t speak or sign the same way. One of the fondest memories I have is when some of the kids gave me their art work to keep. Every time one of the kids or young adults was done painting, the smile they had while handing their work to me was priceless. They seemed really happy with what they did and more confident about their work and themselves. Another big highlight of the trip was seeing the remains of Lucy, who was a part of human evolution. I am an anthropology major, so seeing the remains was cool because I was able to connect the experience to what I was learning in class. Overall, this trip challenged me mentally, emotionally and physically. I feel more humble and I love Ethiopia even more. I would definitely go back.” -DeYan McCarthy


Katie Capulli and students in Ethiopia“Going to Ethiopia was an amazing life changing trip I’ll never forget. We got to see and experience so much of Ethiopia and its culture in such short amount of time. From the expected all day bus rides through the countryside to the unexpected trip to the Great Pyramids and Ethiopia vs. Kenya soccer game we saw how different things are. I came to admire the way that they live as well as appreciate what I have. Getting the opportunity to work with and get to know the amazing people in the Deaf Community in Bahir Dar was by far the best part and influenced me to focus my career goals in that direction. I am so grateful I got the opportunity to go and hopefully one day I’ll be able to go to back to Ethiopia and travel some more.” -Kathleen Capulli


Maria and dancers on stage“Nearing the end of our first week in Ethiopia we had one of biggest cultural experiences: a night of traditional dancing. This night in particular was special because we were celebrating the birthday of our program coordinator from Visions, Greg. From the moment we arrived it was like there was a spotlight on our group; Greg was sung to and given a cake and there was lots of celebrating Birthday celebration for Greg from Visions Global Empowermentbefore we even got inside. Once inside it was like a full immersion in Ethiopian culture. The structure looked like a bigger version of the stick houses we had passed in the countryside, the music from the live band engulfed us right away, and everyone working was in traditional clothing. The show was a combination of sitting and watching performances and required audience participation. There was a part in every song where the dancers would come off the stage to make people dance with them; and during the songs when the dancers were backstage, people would just get up on their own and start dancing. This was one of my favorite nights because going dancing allowed us to have a full cultural experience without a language barrier or worries that we were doing something wrong. We just blended in.” -Maria Gillin


“Summarizing our trip to Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is quite a difficult task. To think in just 14 days we began and completed our journey is amazing. We accomplished so much in such a short time. Before beginning I was ecstatic, yet terrified, unaware of exactly what I would encounter. My family had the same thoughts as we were the first group traveling on this exact study abroad trip. As it turns out, the trip was safe and a wonderful life experience for which I am grateful to have. The journey began with an Kalie at the soccer gameincredibly long plane flight. We then took an unexpected trip in Egypt to see the pyramids which was purely breathtaking. From there we took a short flight into Addis Ababa. We were all so happy to have arrived. From there we went to Bahir Dar. The 12-hour bus ride through the mountains was both draining and beautiful. Looking through the window provided so much cultural awareness for what was ahead. We saw the people living their daily lives in a way I personally never witnessed before. It really forces you to realize how fortunate we are. Once we began working with the deaf children and adults from the center and the schools there was an immense feeling of security. I had no fears. I knew the long travel and overcoming my fears was all worth it. Everyone was so appreciative and so happy to have us there. Dealing with culture shock and the exposure to 4 languages at once resulted in exhausting, yet rewarding days. We taught lessons, we played numerous games, we experienced a professional soccer game, we visited historical sites, we went to cultural dancing and so much more. There was a nice balance of work and fun throughout the entire trip. This study abroad was a unique experience that no words can do appropriate justice.” -Kalie Hagen


“The opportunity I had to work with the Deaf community in Ethiopia was amazing. Beyond learning Ethiopian Sign Language, seeing Ethiopian history and artifacts and learning the cultures of both the hearing and Deaf population in Ethiopia, I learned a lot about myself. I’m so grateful for all the friends, both SUNY students and Ethiopians, I made while abroad and all that I learned from them. This trip was truly an inspiration and gave me memories and lessons I’ll remember for a lifetime.” -Cathryn BrownCathryn and friends


“Having this kind of opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people. It’s not so much about bettering oneself as it is letting yourself open up and allowing a culture much different than your own to influence you. It’s about loving other people, creating new friendships, and experiencing life-changing events. That’s exactly what has happened on this trip to Ethiopia. I never, in a million years, could imagine seeing myself in Africa let alone making as many friends as I have. Between the other girls who were a part of this Alexa and friends on bustrip and the amazing Deaf community we met, it’s as if we’ve become one big family. Together, we created an environment of equality and trust, both of which seem to be so difficult to have in the United States. That’s why this adventure is so rewarding; you simply cannot find this genuine experience back home.” -Alexa Venezia



Jada and students“I absolutely enjoyed my study abroad experience in Ethiopia. It was beautiful to be able to interact with the Ethiopian Deaf community. They embraced us with open arms. Even though there was a language barrier, the children and even the adults wanted our companionship and advice. The teachers also wanted our help to make the center more successful. Not only did I bond with Jada and friendsthose I was helping, I formed a bond with the group of New Paltz girls I came with. This trip shaped everyone involved into a family. I am so anxious to be able to see how the center will grow.” -Jada Quinlan








Study Abroad Ethiopia Presentation October 20, 2015

Students who traveled to Ethiopia this past June on the Deaf Education and Empowerment service learning trip will be sharing their experiences at a study abroad presentation on October 20, 2015 at 6:30pm in Humanities Bldg. Room 201. All are welcome to come and hear about their experiences, and learn about the next trip coming up in June 2016.

The Deaf Education and Empowerment study abroad service learning trip is a collaboration between SUNY New Paltz Center for International Programs and Visions Global Empowerment, an organization that seeks to create positive change for youth affected by poverty, conflict, and disability through educational and empowerment initiatives. For more information about Visions, visit their Facebook page:

Rebecca Swenson, coordinator of the Deaf Studies minor and the study abroad course instructor, and Caitlin Paul, Study Abroad Adviser, Center for International Programs, will also be at the presentation to provide information and answer questions.

Communication Disorders Alumna Wins Big on “Wheel of Fortune”

When Jenny (Thayer) Riehl ’02 ’04g (Communication Disorders) was a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” last December, she had no idea that she would eventually win $54,505 in cash and prizes on the popular game show.


Jenny (Thayer) Riehl ’02 ’04g

With a combination of positivity, smarts and strategy, the Town of Ulster resident closed out the win with a phrase worth $32,000 in the bonus round. She also walked away with an all-expense-paid trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.

“My first thought was one of being grateful and blessed for the win,” said Riehl. “I hadn’t really thought about the monetary outcome of the game, just solving the puzzles correctly.”

Riehl watched the February broadcast with a private viewing party of close friends and family. The celebration included a cake adorned with a wheel on top, and Riehl surprised her guests by handing out leis after the Hawaii trip was announced.

“It was an amazing night,” she said. “I was actually more nervous that day than I had been to tape the show because that’s when the reality of it all hit me.”

Though she hasn’t decided how to enjoy her windfall, Riehl said she’s already gotten a great deal out of the experience of competing on the game show.

“I feel beyond amazing and wouldn’t have changed a thing,” she said. “I feel most people have dreams that they never fulfill. This experience has taught me to listen to that inner voice more often, try some things that are out of my comfort zone, and not to be intimidated or afraid to fail.”

Riehl, a school speech language pathologist for the Red Hook School District, lives with her husband, A.J., and their rescue dog, Whitney, in Kingston, N.Y. She worked as an adjunct faculty member at SUNY New Paltz until 2011.

Notes from Ethiopia

This June, the Coordinator of the Deaf Studies program, Rebecca Swenson and seven and New Paltz students embarked on a Deaf education and empowerment study abroad trip to Ethiopia. Here are some notes and photos of their adventure so far:

From Rebecca Swenson on June 17:

Rebecca Swenson and Deafness Center students around a table

Rebecca, New Paltz students, and Bahir Dar Deafness Center students in the classroom

I am just checking in to let you know we have started working with the Deaf here in Bahir Dar. Yesterday we had a site visit to the school and the new Deafness Center where we were given a show put on by the children. Then we started working with the Deaf young adults to put together skits for short educational films to raise public awareness about deafness.  Our New Paltz students are doing well with communicating using their sign skill and with the interpreters. It is really quite an experience with 4 languages going on at one time! Today we will visit two new classrooms for deaf students and we will put on a program and lead some activities for them. This is really an amazing learning experience for our New Paltz students; and it is wonderful to see their enthusiastic participation.

Cick thumbnails to enlarge photos.

24 Inducted in Lambda Pi Eta National Honor Society

On Tuesday, May 12, 24 juniors and seniors majoring in communication-related fields were inducted into the Lambda Pi Eta National Honor Society at a ceremony in the College Terrace.  While the national Lambda Pi Eta criteria are a 3.0 overall GPA and a 3.25 major GPA, The SUNY New Paltz Chapter requires higher standards of an overall 3.25 GPA and a 3.5 major GPA, as well as junior or senior standing in a communication-related field.

Com Honor Society inducteesThis year’s inductees were: Andrew David Abbott, Anisa Ahdieh Arcos-Pangione, Payal Batra, Alexandria Bizub, Nyah Lee Del Carmen Bonilla, Christine M Borella, Gianna Elizabeth Canevari. Jill M Cronin, Emily Jean DeFranco, Alexa Mara Gold, Anne Eileen Jacobs, April M Lopez del Castillo, Nicholas Magnanti, Daniel Joseph Motto, Casey Marie Nardone, Annamaria Palumbo, Jesse M Pilnik, Ashley Elizabeth Riefenhauser, Amanda Rose Ruschak, Stephanie Anna Ryba, Paige Ashley Schindler, Sara Huq Shameem, Rebecca Zedeck and Nicole A Zuyus.

Approximately 100 people attended the ceremony, including family members, friends, faculty and 2014 Lambda Pi Eta inductees.  All enjoyed the intimate induction ceremony, buffet dinner, and congratulatory cake.  The event was organized by Donna Flayhan, associate professor of communication and the honor society’s faculty adviser. 2014 Lambda Pi Eta inductees Zameena Mejia and April Polydorou led the ceremony.

Lambda Pi Eta inductees Stephanie Black, Nick Magnotti, and Stephanie Ryba will lead the campus chapter next year.


Deaf Awareness ASL Movie Night Returns April 28!

The Department of Communication Disorders is pleased to announce ASL Movie Night on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. “The Legend of the Mountain Man” (rated PG) will be shown at 6:30pm on campus in Lecture Center Room 100. There is no cost for this event. The movie is presented in sign language and is closed captioned for the hearing.

Please join us for this ever-popular and delightfully campy movie night!
asl_movie_night_poster_4-28-2015Sponsored by:
Mid-Hudson Deaf Awareness Group
Department of Communication Disorders, SUNY New Paltz
Sociology Concentration in Human Services, SUNY New Paltz
Taconic Resources for Independence, Inc.

Prominent Doctor to Speak on Acid Reflux Disease Epidemic

Dr. Jonathan E. Aviv, one of the leading authorities on acid reflux disease, will share his expertise on the disease’s warning signs and linkage to the fastest growing cancer in America during a presentation on Thursday, April 16 at 6 p.m. in Lecture Center 100.

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Dr. Jonathan E. Aviv

The presentation, entitled “Hard to Swallow: The Sweet and Sour of Acid Reflux Disease,” will demonstrate how throat complaints (cough, hoarseness, frequent throat clearing, and lump-like sensations in the throat) even more so than traditional heartburn complaints, may indicate severe acid reflux disease. Aviv will describe how actions by the U.S. government and food industry in the 1970s inadvertently led to the nation’s current acid reflux epidemic and the rise of esophageal cancer. The latest technology available to prevent, diagnose and treat this growing problem, including the use of “food as medicine,” will also be discussed.

Aviv has been named one of New York Magazine’s “Best Doctors” (1998-2013). He has been featured in articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and has appeared on “Good Morning America,” the Discovery Channel and several national radio programs.

bookimage3He is the clinical director of the Voice and Swallowing Center, a division of ENT and Allergy Associates, LLP (ENTA) and author of the health and wellness book “Killing Me Softly from Inside,” which makes explicit the connection between highly processed foods, acid reflux and esophageal cancer. The book advocates for a low-acid, nutritionally balanced diet.

Following the presentation, Aviv will sign copies of his book and low acid refreshments will be served.

The event is sponsored by the Communication Disorders Department, SUNY New Paltz Speech, Language and Hearing Center, Office of Academic Affairs, HealthQuest and Medtronic.

For more information, contact Nina JeckerBryne at 845-257-2399 or

Presentation on Ethiopia Study Abroad Opportunity to be Held Jan. 29.


Students will learn about an opportunity to work with Ethiopia’s deaf population during a presentation on Thursday, Jan. 29 at 5 p.m. in Lecture Center room 108.

Communication Disorders lecturer Rebecca Swenson participated in the Visions Deaf Education and Empowerment in Ethiopia service learning trip last summer and will speak about her experiences. A representative from the Study Abroad office will be present to provide information and answer questions.

Students can earn three credits for the study abroad course in Ethiopia, held June 15-27. The course is offered by the SUNY New Paltz Center for International Programs, in partnership with Visions Global Empowerment.

LA&S Outstanding Graduates Honored

Students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who excelled academically and outside of the classroom were among graduates honored during the campus-wide Outstanding Graduate Awards ceremony, held Thursday, Dec. 11 in the Multi-Purpose Room.

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Philip Mauceri presented the students with certificates.

Congratulations to all LA&S Outstanding Graduates:

Alexis Moody

Asian Studies
Dennis Gross

Mia Faske
Carly Rome
Hayley Ward

Communication Disorders
Sarah McNamara
Shayna Burgess
Heidi Schmidt (Graduate)

Digital Media and Journalism
Gianna Canevari
Julio Olivencia
Alexandria Fontanez*

Maya Slouka
James Frauenberger
Karissa Keir
Danielle Brown (Graduate)

Kevin Vogelaar
Jessica Pierorazio (Graduate)
Jonathan Mandia*

Languages, Literatures & Cultures
Alexandria Fontanez*
Sarah Walling

Latin American & Caribbean Studies
Adam Repose

Elizabeth Saunders
Jonathan Mandia*

Political Science/International Relations
Andrew Roepe

Hannah Lake
Stefany Batista
Geoffrey Ralls
Morgan Gleason (Graduate)

Sarah Alestalo
Imuetinyan Odigie
Allison Smalley

Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Sudies
Emily Holmes

*Received multiple departmental awards.

Cognitive Science Colloquium Series Begins with Sign Language Lecture

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Dr. Marie Coppola conducts field work to promote equal access to language and education for deaf individuals.

Dr. Marie Coppola will be the first speaker of the 2014-2015 Cognitive Science Colloquium Series. Dr. Coppola is the director of the Language Creation Lab at the University of Connecticut. Her research investigates how sign languages emerge and are created in communities. Her talk will focus on homesign gesture systems (that is, gesture systems developed by deaf individuals who are not exposed to conventional sign or spoken language input), their characteristics, and the developmental consequences of linguistic deprivation with respect to other aspects of cognition.

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Dr. Coppola

Dr. Coppola’s talk, titled “Which aspects of language and cognition depend on linguistic input? Insights from homesign gesture systems” will take place on Thursday, October 23, at 3:30 pm in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium. The talk is sponsored by Campus Auxiliary Services and by the following programs and departments: Linguistics, Deaf Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Communication Disorders, and Psychology.

Abstract of the Talk:

Researchers in the cognitive sciences have long debated the relationships between linguistic input and language structure, as well as the relationships between language and cognition. Homesign systems offer a unique window into these relationships. Homesigns are gesture systems developed by deaf individuals who are not exposed to conventional sign or spoken language input. Homesign systems exhibit a number of linguistic properties, but appear to lack others, which depend on access to a linguistic model and/or interaction within a language community. Dr. Coppola will show that homesign systems have structure at a variety of levels of linguistic analysis, including phonology and discourse structure. Dr. Coppola will describe some of the developmental consequences of linguistic (but not social) deprivation, particularly with respect to number cognition. Finally, she will discuss her work with Manos Unidas (, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote equal access to language and education for deaf individuals in Nicaragua.

Study Abroad Opportunity in Deaf Studies

Please join us on Monday, October 27 for a slide show and presentation on this exciting study abroad opportunity affiliated with the Deaf Studies program:

Deaf Studies study abroad presentation announcementLearn more about faculty member Rebecca Swenson’s trip to Ethiopia this past summer here:

 Deaf Education and Empowerment in Ethiopia

For more information, contact Rebecca Swenson at