Aha Moment Leads to Two Degrees and One Career
Cynthia Whitaker, 34, graduated from Antioch University New England in 2006 with a doctorate in clinical psychology. Today she’s employed as coordinator of deaf services for the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center at Community Council.
In her role, she provides therapy to people who are deaf or hard of hearing throughout the state of New Hampshire. “It’s my dream job,” she said. “I’m living my dream!”
Cynthia, who grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, discovered her passion for her life’s work at a very early age. “I actually started learning sign language when I was five years old,” she said. “I belonged to the (Rhode Island) Grange where I entered finger spelling contests. From then on I just wanted to know anything and everything.”
She was also influenced by an aunt who was a sign language interpreter and an uncle who was a psychologist. After graduating from high school, she enrolled in Rhode Island College where in 1995 she earned her undergraduate degree in psychology and communication, speech and hearing science. She also completed two sign-language courses at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf.
A short time later, she landed her first professional job as a mental health worker at a local hospital. One Friday afternoon she watched as a woman who was deaf was admitted for services. Staff didn’t know sign language, so before she left for the weekend, Cynthia advised them how to find an interpreter. What happened next changed the course of her life.
“I went back to work on Monday, and the woman came up to me bawling,” she said. “They put me on medication and I don’t know why, she cried. They strapped me down and I don’t know why.” She was so confused and upset. “I said to myself, that’s it!” said Cynthia. “I’ve got to go back to school so I can work with the population to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
A Student’s Ambition
After carefully investigating her options, she chose and was accepted into Antioch University New England, which was an easy commute from Rhode Island, and offered an educational program specifically tailored to her needs.
“AUNE’s program is so flexible,” she said. “I could research exactly what I wanted to do, and do it. It’s fabulous.” To fully realize her dream, she also concurrently enrolled in the University of New Hampshire – Manchester to study sign language. Her AUNE professors fully supported her initiative.
“While I went to AUNE, at the same time, I also went to UNH-Manchester to get a full degree in American Sign Language interpretation,” she said. “Right from my AUNE interview, my AUNE professors were very supportive and encouraging. The only question they had was would I have enough energy.”
In 2004, Cynthia graduated from UNH-Manchester. Since her AUNE graduation in 2006, she has been licensed both as a psychologist and as a sign language interpreter. In October 2006, she accepted her present position as coordinator of deaf services at the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center where she provides therapy to people of all ages and from all walks of life.
“People who are deaf lead very stressful lives in general,” said Cynthia who now lives in Weare, New Hampshire with her family. “A lot is very dependent on what their individual family of origin is like,” she said. “Some families refused to learn sign language. Often children who are deaf were sent to residential schools where they may have been abused. I work with people across the lifespan. I see the full gamut.”
Wholeheartedly recommending AUNE to prospective students, Cynthia also offers some advice. “Roll up your sleeves and jump in,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s one of the things that enabled me to do what I did.”