Destined to Make a Difference: A TCC Alumni's Passion for Sign Language Interpretation Fuels Her Teaching and Leadership

sheppard_sammie_3229It seems Sammie Sheppard was destined to work with the Deaf. The TCC alumni, who now coordinates the Sign Language Interpreting Program at the Trinity River Campus, was first introduced to the hearing impaired at an early age, when she met a boy in her community who was deaf.
When Sheppard later attended Stephen F. Austin State University, it turned out that one of her roommates, Diane (Rollins) Stewart was deaf. Stewart brought Sheppard into the SFASU Deaf community, and thanks to her encouragement, Sheppard decided to became an interpreter.
Once Sheppard moved to Fort Worth, where her husband could pursue work, she wanted to strengthen her interpreting skills acquired in East Texas. She was excited to learn about the TCC Sign Language Interpreting Program, then offered at the Northwest Campus. “Formal interpreting educational programs were almost non-existent at the time,” Sheppard said.
Her Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation from the University of North Texas, completed in 1988, provided a great complement when Sheppard began to pursue her Associate in Applied Science in Interpreting for the Deaf. She earned it in 1991. Her previous minor in Orientation and Mobility, which focused on training the blind, really equipped her to work with the Deaf/Blind community. Sheppard is continuing her formal education and anticipates completing her Master of Teaching American Sign Language from the University of Northern Colorado in December.
One of Sheppard’s early TCC instructors, Michael Cinatl, gave her a start in education by hiring her as an adjunct instructor in 1992. Cinatl, now assistant to Southeast Campus President Bill Coppola, recalls that Sheppard did extremely well in the program. “I could not only rely on her professionalism but also her ability to deliver the curriculum and learn the art of teaching,” Cinatl said. “Even though she did not have an education background, she quickly learned how to teach with compassion and maintain the rigor needed so students could graduate and pass their state certification.”
Sheppard’s devotion to the success of her students is fueled by her commitment to excellence in her field. “You should be passionate about what you teach,” she says.

Interpreter Training Program Students Holly Lackey and Zac Rocha converse in ASL.
Interpreter Training Program students Holly Lackey and Zac Rocha converse in ASL.

It is not surprising that Sheppard’s students sing her praises. “Sammie is dedicated to our success and works tirelessly for this program to run smoothly,” said Interpreter Training Program student Holly Lackey. “We can go to her for anything. Her door is always open to us – unless she is grading. And then, we just throw chocolate at her.”
The quality of the TCC Sign Language Interpreting Program is what brought student James Holtry to Texas from Florida. “It’s not just about learning sign language. It’s about learning why and how to sign and what sign language means to the Deaf community. Because of this, the faculty and staff are willing to personally invest in each student’s success.”
Fellow student Zac Rocha agrees. “Each instructor brings a reality to the classroom by sharing their experiences. At each level, students experience genuine knowledge that can only be passed down from an instructor who has personal experience with the subject.”
Sheppard, herself, is extremely proud of what the TCC Sign Language Interpreting Program has to offer. “Many of our faculty and staff are deaf and partner with hearing instructors who are certified. The Deaf culture is taught and students have a better sense of the needs of the Deaf consumer.” Currently, the Sign Language Interpreting Program has 370 students and a waiting list to enter.
Last fall, Sheppard and her team began the daunting task of working toward gaining accreditation for their program through the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education. They hope to complete that goal within two years.
“We have total buy-in with our faculty, advisory board and campus administrators,” says Sheppard. “I couldn’t ask for better support. And needless to say, our students want to see it happen.”
This article is the third in a year-long series celebrating TCC’s 50th anniversary through the lives of its students. Follow the links below to enjoy the previous features:
Sultan Karriem and Erin Casey.
Students Zac Rocha and Holly Lackey conversing in ASL
TCC Sign Language Grad Volunteers for Family in Need