Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Dana Mittelman

Name: Dana Mittelman
Age: 28
Occupation: American Sign Language/English Interpreter
Education (UR and additional): B.A. in American Sign Language, University of Rochester, 2005, M.A. in Interpretation, Gallaudet University, 2009
Current city/state of residence: Washington, DC
Family: Drew Mittelman (’68), father
Community Activities: I’m a member of the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) as well as the Potomac Chapter of RID. I play on a kickball team here in DC, am an active member of my book club, and am taking my first class through the Smithsonian Institution–Introduction to Calligraphy!

When and how did you choose your major?

I took an American Sign Language class my freshman year on a whim, while I debated between Psychology, English and Art History as a major. I fell in love with ASL immediately, and continued to take classes into my sophomore and junior year, eventually picking Linguistics with a focus in ASL as a major. My senior year, one of the required Linguistics courses conflicted with an ASL elective (ASL Poetry and Storytelling) that I had been waiting to take for four years. I realized that while I loved linguistics, my true passion was ASL, so in the fall of my senior year, I officially switched from Linguistics to ASL and have never regretted that decision for one second.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was heavily involved with theatre, both the UR International Theatre Program as well as independent/student directed work—I loved the camaraderie that came from the student directed pieces. I wrote for the Campus Times—it was fantastic to have a platform for my writing, and I was grateful for the opportunities to learn more about many different aspects of the University through the CT. I was in a sorority, and had the chance to meet a diverse group of women through the Greek system. I worked for the Admissions Office which allowed me to chat about the University and attempt to instill my love for the school into prospective students and their families.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I worked for the Admissions office as an Admissions Counselor—what began as a “no more than 9 month” position (as I told myself then), quickly turned into two wonderful years. Not only did I get to speak of my highly positive experience at the University all day every day, I worked with a wonderful group of people and had the opportunity to really develop my interpersonal and public speaking skills. While it wasn’t a career for me, it was a perfect “transition” job away from the University, and I will always be fascinated by the college admissions process as a result.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am a sign language interpreter. I work, full-time, for an interpreting agency in Washington, DC—I have the opportunity to work with Deaf individuals in the government, in universities, at hospitals, and everywhere in between. I knew that it would be a waste to fall in love with ASL at U of R and then never use it in my career. So I returned to graduate school (at Gallaudet University) to get my Masters in Interpretation, and have been working since I graduated in 2009. I was able to parlay the rock-solid foundation I received from the ASL program at the U of R into a career where I get to interact with people and analyze language, culture and their intricacies on a daily basis. I can’t imagine a more ideal job.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Of course everything I learned in the ASL program (especially the Deaf culture studies and linguistics emphasis) has benefited me in my current career. But the University’s emphasis on quality writing has benefited me the most overall. From the Admissions Office, to graduate school, to my current job, I have always been comfortable with and proud of my writing abilities, and it was a huge advantage to me once I graduated from the U of R. People respect writing skills, and it’s one of the easiest ways to impress in the professional world.

How are you still connected with the University?

Of course, because of my time in the Admissions office, I am a “UR Involved” alumna volunteer—I conduct interviews and represent the University at local college fairs. I am also heavily involved with the U of R Young Alumni Council, and have met a myriad of fantastic young alums in the DC area through our local events. I am also a member of the Rochester Career Advisory Network (although I have yet to receive a single inquiry of my work in the ASL/Deaf culture field! Any day now!)

What advice do you have for current students?

I originally majored in Linguistics partly because I enjoyed it, but partly because I thought it would provide me with more work opportunities after graduation than ASL would. When I sat down with a counselor in the career center when I was a senior, he asked me which of the two I truly loved, which classes I looked forward to. I replied, unequivocally, “ASL.” While I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to use a degree in ASL, I knew that I would be able to speak about it with absolute conviction and passion in any situation after graduation. And making that decision certainly worked in my favor. So, that’s my advice: there isn’t a “bad” department at U of R, so major in what you love. Don’t get bogged down with what you “think” will happen after graduation. If you do what you love now, it will more likely land you a career that you can imagine yourself in for a lifetime.