Interview with Cathy Cogen: Emerging Trends and Implications for Interpreter Education

Cathy Cogen discusses Emerging Trends in Interpreting and Implications for Interpreter Education with Brandon Arthur at RID NOLA 2015.

Brandon Arthur: Hello. I’m Brandon Arthur with StreetLeverage. We’re here at the 2015 RID Conference in New Orleans, LA. I’m thrilled to be sitting with Cathy Cogen, the Director of the NCIEC. Welcome, Cathy.

Cathy Cogen: Hello. Thank you for the invitation to sit down for an interview.

Brandon Arthur: Absolutely. You’ve just completed your presentation and explanation of the Trends Report which contains some fascinating information. I’m looking forward to that discussion, but before we start, I wonder if you could describe how the NCIEC works, the coordination of regions and funding, etc., so that people have a clearer sense of the work being done.

Cathy Cogen: Certainly. I don’t mean to be critical, but many people are unclear about the NCIEC (National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers). You called me the director of the NCIEC, but I’m not. I’m the director of the NIEC, the National Interpreter Education Center. Many people are confused about this because we have six different grants from the U.S. Department of Education and Rehabilitation Services Administration, and the funding is provided to the various centers in different areas around the country. This includes my program, NIEC, and five regional centers which receive funding from different grants. Each center has its own director. Currently, we all collaborate in addition to our work as individual centers. So, in addition to each Regional Interpreter Education Center’s service to their region, they also collaborate on the national level, sharing information, resources, etc.

The RSA even requires that 10% of our grant money be earmarked for collaboration, supporting various projects and programs, and travel if needed. This is all in support of our operations in collaboration with the other regions. That collaboration is called the NCIEC which has six directors – one from each grant program – working in tandem. That work requires regular monthly meetings where we determine which projects we’ll undertake – for example, projects specializing in legal interpreting, healthcare interpreting, etc. Whatever type of interpreting, we collaborate. Other examples include VR interpreting, Deaf interpreters, DSAT and DBSAT which means Deaf and DeafBlind Self Advocacy, trilingual interpreting – all these various projects are being developed. Well, first we’re doing research to determine critical domains and competencies to include in developing curriculum and training trainers to help get the curriculum disseminated. We’ve established new curricula for trilingual interpreting, Deaf interpreting, and a variety of different products. As we collaborate, we pool our funding, our energies, and our time, to work together. That collaboration is the NCIEC. Does that help?

Brandon Arthur: That helped a lot, yes. You recently distributed and shared the trends report based on research that was done. You talked about trends in the field of interpreting. As I think about that presentation, I’m wondering what you would consider three of the most critical issues the interpreting field is facing now and in the near future?

Cathy Cogen: Basically, the trends research is in agreement with areas interpreters identified as training needs. The three top areas of need are:

  1. Interpreting and working with Deaf individuals with disfluent or idiosyncratic language;
  2. Working with and interpreting for Deaf individuals who have other challenges – Deaf Plus, if you will – those who may have communication challenges, cognitive processing challenges, mental health issues, physical challenges, etc.  Working with those populations poses the biggest challenge for interpreters working in K-12 educational settings as we see more and more students identified in these populations.
  3. Honestly, all three of these issues are interconnected. With the first two challenges – as interpreters realize they may not have the knowledge to meet the needs of these consumers, they begin to realize they need to know how to collaborate with Deaf Interpreters. These three areas are critically important for the future.

How we provide interpreting services, how interpreter education programs train people to expand their repertoire to work with various populations, to collaborate with other interpreters and, moving into the future, how we pay for multiple services providers – these are all big questions.

Brandon Arthur: In thinking about those challenges, how do current training programs and future programs aim to support interpreters who need training to address these challenges?

Cathy Cogen: Interestingly, I’ve been involved at Northeastern University for 38 years in various capacities. I started as the first Director of the ASL program, then I left for nine years, but continued doing consulting work, grant writing, and teaching part time. Then I came back in 1996 and have been involved in building this program ever since with other people, very important people, in fact, such as Marie Philip, Nancy Becker, and others who are so important and have given me so much, really, they gave me my career. But we’ve had many failures along the way. Now, we’re thinking about training Deaf interpreters, training heritage signers, and neither of these fit in a traditional training model. So we need a non-traditional approach. Will that happen outside of the university for those who already have a degree? RID requires a bachelor’s degree for certification, so that gives us options. The point is that we have to think outside of the box. One of our presentation slides depicts that notion.

I don’t know what it will ultimately look like, but we definitely have to rethink interpreter education to include more Deaf people and more opportunities for language growth. If we look at ASL curriculum, as Dennis Cokely  said, it’s good for social interactions, but it is not adequate for professional discourse in ASL. So, there are many things that need to be changed. We’re just beginning, but it’s something we have to do.

Brandon Arthur: In thinking about systemic change, you’re getting closer to retirement now, how do you envision the future for the field? You’ve mentioned several changes necessary. What does it take for that to happen?

Cathy Cogen: In general, we need more Deaf involvement across the board. NIEC leadership is all hearing at the moment. We’re part of the problem. Most of the people running interpreter programs are hearing. Most of the interpreter educators are hearing. We have so much to learn from Deaf interpreters and Deaf-parented interpreters (IDPs) alike. If we look back to early intervention, where is Deaf people’s involvement? Where are they? They’re shunted off to the sidelines as the programs continue on developing without them. Some isolated programs have Deaf people involved, and that’s great, but many don’t. They sideline Deaf people. From educational interpreting to interpreting education, we need more Deaf people involved. We need interpreting itself to involve more Deaf interpreters, so that’s my hope for the future.

Brandon Arthur: From our conversation, I understand that we have fifty-three days left in the current cycle, so I’m wondering what’s next. NIEC has been funded for one more year, and you’re already thinking about grants for the next year, so assuming you’re funded again, what can you say to the next director of the NIEC?

Cathy Cogen: I think I would tell them to follow the findings of the trends report. Try to cover all those issues. This next year, with the one year extension, we’ll disseminate our work to more people – to train more interpreters, provide more information and get our products out there. We have so much to offer as I mentioned before. We also have online resources. We want to share this work with people in the field. After that, I hope the RSA will use the work we’ve done to build new cycles and criteria for the grants. I don’t know what their criteria will look like, but ultimately, after the request is submitted, it will be up to the RSA.

Brandon Arthur: Thank you for your work. Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. I appreciate it and I hope people have a more clear understanding. I hope, too, that we can address those trends to help strengthen the field now and into the future. Thank you for sitting down with me today.

Cathy Cogen: Thank you so much for your work, too. I really appreciate the information you are sharing with the field. Thank you.

Brandon Arthur: Thanks.