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What’s new in Viterbo University’s Community Interpreting Certificate?

05/27/2020 11:00 PM | Catherine Breckenridge (Administrator)

High School Heritage Speakers, Action Research and Interpreting Symposium

By Sierra Wilcox, Faustina Zertler, and Michelle Pinzl

It has been awhile since community interpreting students at Viterbo have reported in inforMATIon about the ways they are working to advance both their skills through practice and their knowledge through theory. Since their last publication in April 2016, three major developments have propelled their studies and professional development forward and into local communities throughout the Midwest. Read on to learn more! 

Early College Credit Program (ECCP)

In 2019, the Community Interpreting Certificate began working with area high schools, to include heritage speakers of Spanish into interpreting courses at Viterbo. The Early College Credit Program, through Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, permits high school students to take courses at institutions of higher education for high school and/or college credit -- all of this funded through the State of Wisconsin and the students’ school district. Currently, twelve students attending Arcadia High School are enrolled in Viterbo’s Interpreting Program. 

While some have found it challenging to balance obligations between high school and college, five high school seniors are expected to successfully graduate from the program this spring semester. Overall, these students feel positive about their experience in the program and hope to use the skills they have gained in their future as interpreters or in other professional contexts. As one student, Diego Gonzalez-Diaz, from Arcadia High School reports, “I plan to one day work in the government... My dream is to work at an embassy in Spain or Mexico.” It has been infinitely enriching to have the hopes and dreams of this nation’s youth mingle with the wealth of wisdom that non-traditional students’ experience brings to the classroom. In the end, we have learned that we are all working toward common goals.

Carrying out Action Research and Training in the Community 

To hone their skills as professionals, both high school students and non-traditional students enrolled in this program have worked on a variety of undergraduate action research projects and training opportunities in recent years. Students of the 2018 and 2019 cohorts, for example, carried out a total of seven undergraduate research projects. First, they read literature about the state of community interpreting both in the US and internationally. Then, working independently or in groups, they formulated research questions about language access in their own communities. After writing a research proposal, creating and distributing surveys and finally analyzing the results, they disseminated their data. In the process, they were able to identify tangible realities around interpreting services in their local communities and potential areas for improvement. 

The action research that students engaged in between 2018-2019 included topics related to language access in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the La Crosse Police Department, real estate agencies, pharmacies, libraries, dental offices, and area dairy farms. At the 2018 and 2019 Ramp Up the Conversation Interpreter and ISP Conferences, organized by Bilingual Training Consultants LLC, students presented the results of their studies to practicing interpreters from around the state and region. By sparking conversations with practitioners, aspiring interpreters were able to form relationships with experienced professionals in the field. At the same time, interpreters with years of practice, were inspired by the freshness and enthusiasm with which students strived to change language access for the better. 

In November 2019, students built on gained research skills, in the course Interpreting for Business and Legal Contexts by responding to MATI’s 2020 Webinar Series. They wrote their proposals based on their life experiences as related to community interpreting, projects related to their action research, or their 40-hour internships. Based on the accepted webinar proposals, seven students hope to prepare round-table presentations for the Viterbo Community Interpreting Symposium to be held and hosted by Viterbo, for interpreting professionals in the region. Founded in research and experience, these sessions will be engaging opportunities for practicing interpreters who seek continuing education credits. The diverse topic areas of these presentations are reflected in their well-chosen titles and speak to themes that revolve around language access in varied settings:

  • The Study of Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions: Another Tool for the Interpreter's Communicative Toolbox  (by Lexi Budden and Michelle Pinzl)
  • Interpreting in the World of Dermatology (by María Barajas)
  • Circumlocution in Educational Settings: Finding Meaning-for-Meaning Equivalents (by Lisa Anderson and Faustina Zertler)
  • Los Marielitos: Interpreting the Voices of Cuban Refugees (by Ashley Rowin and Jade Baumgartner)
  • 'Reduced Nerve Conduction Velocity' - Decoding Lead Exposure Language for Interpreters (by Bryce Dorff)

Abstracts describing these presentations can be found on the MATI Webinar Series 2020 webpage here: 

Indeed, students have been working hard to engage in their communities and connect with the booming field of interpreting in the United States. As one future presenter at the 2020 interpreting symposium, Bryce Dorff, states, I have learned many things from the Community Interpreting Certificate including the history of interpreting, modes and techniques for interpreting, and ... about my own biases that I bring into an interpreting session. Beyond the academics, I learned about interpreting as a service, and a community that is passionate about equality, justice, and client rights.” The hard work of these students will culminate for 16 graduates in a ceremony held as soon as it is safe to do so in-person, given the stakes of our current worldwide pandemic.  


First Annual Community Interpreting Symposium: Date and Format to be Determined!

As for out first annual Community Interpreting Symposium, Viterbo’s Interpreting Program would be honored if you would join us for the event and celebration! Organization, marketing and event themes will be student-led, but the target audience will be interpreting practitioners. We are hoping to share with you, as well as learn from you!

The objectives of this event are threefold: to create a continuing education opportunity for practicing interpreters in the Midwest, to encourage the link between theory and practice in the fields of translation and interpreting and to deepen conversation and understanding in our communities about the importance of language access. The day will consist of several break-out sessions and workshops facilitated by current Community Interpreting Certificate students, recent graduates, and other practicing interpreters and translators on various topics related to language access.

Please stand by for more information on the Symposium date, time and place, as we continue to support one another in the best ways we know how through the COVID-19 pandemic! 

Tentative agenda: 

Welcome: 7:50am

Break-out sessions: 8:00-9:30am

  • 30-minute Roundtables

Break-out Workshops: 9:45-10:45am

  • One workshop for each modality  (sight translation, consecutive (carried out in the simulation lab) or simultaneous)

Break-out sessions: 11:00-12:30pm

  • 30-minute Roundtables

Lunch: Panel with Marielitos 12:30-1:30pm

  • Interpreting at Fort McCoy in 1980: The Struggle of Language Access for Cuban Refugees

State of the Field: Current and Future in La Crosse and Surrounding Areas: 1:45-2:45

Closing Remarks

Interpreting Certificate Graduation Ceremony:  3-4:30pm

Wisconsin Court interpreters, CCHI and IMIA/NBCMI. We look forward to seeing you there! 

A final thought from Sierra Wilcox, current student of the program:

In conclusion, I would like to assert, as a current student of the program and co-author of this publication, that being a student in Viterbo University’s Community Interpreting program has been an excellent investment in my future. I’ve learned a great amount on a variety of topics including language, diversity, health care, laws, culture and so much more. This program allows people who are interested in interpreting or translating the tools needed to do so in a professional and productive manner. Even if interpreting or translating isn’t your end goal, I would recommend the program to everyone interested in languages or cultures.

On behalf of the program and the students who will help to organize the upcoming Community Interpreting Symposium, we look forward to welcoming you to Viterbo soon (whether in person or online)! 


Bio: Sierra Wilcox expects to finish her B.A. in Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in December 2020. In addition, she will earn a Certificate in Community Interpreting from Viterbo University by the end of this year. Her main interests regarding language access lie in community interpreting, particularly in educational and medical contexts. Sierra also volunteers weekly at the Language Resource Center at UW-La Crosse where she serves as a conversation partner for students learning Spanish.

Bio: Faustina Zertler graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a B.A. in Spanish in 2019. In December of 2019, she earned a 13-credit Community Interpreting Certificate from Viterbo University. As a researcher, Faustina has presented research in both language access within the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and patient compliance to breast cancer follow-up. Faustina now works as a Clinical Research Coordinator at Gundersen Health System and a Spanish-English Community Interpreter for school districts in Southwest Wisconsin.

Bio: Michelle Pinzl is the Coordinator of the Community Interpreting Certificate and Assistant Professor at Viterbo University where she teaches Spanish, French and Interpreting Studies. She earned her Master’s degree in Foreign Languages and Intercultural Management from the Université de Limoges in France and is currently a PhD candidate at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, in Spain. She is a certified Spanish<>English Court Interpreter for the State of Wisconsin and a certified Medical Interpreter through the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI). Michelle has been interpreting for social service agencies, schools, businesses, as well as various sectors of the farming industry in Wisconsin since 2006.


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