Long before Mary Katelyn Harker ever thought about college, she was preparing for a career as a teacher for deaf and special needs students – she just didn’t know it.

In elementary school, Harker was selected to participate in a program that paired advanced learners with special needs students for 30 minutes a day. Her study buddy was a nonverbal student with Down syndrome.

“I picked up a few of the sign language things – little bits and pieces,” she said. “It’s something I really enjoyed.”

By the time Harker began considering college and career options, those days were a distant memory, and she had her sights set on the medical field. Harker came to UNCG with plans to transfer to Duke University after a few semesters to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

“UNCG was supposed to be a stepping stone,” she said. “Then, I discovered the Professions in Deafness program.”

One of Harker’s friends was taking an American Sign Language (ASL) class, and convinced Harker she should take ASL as well. Once she started, she was hooked.

Harker quickly developed an appreciation for ASL and for the deaf community.

“The deaf community is its own kind of world. They’re so proud of each other and so proud of themselves – and they should be,” she said.

Harker’s love of children led her to the university’s deaf education program.

“I fell in love even more with that,” she said. “The deaf education department in general is unique. The major is very small – everybody knows everybody.”

In addition to learning ASL, Harker’s studies have centered around how to teach deaf students, who often struggle with language deficits due to the language barrier.

“ASL is a whole different language,” she said.

After about a semester in the deaf education department, Harker found out about an opportunity to add on a license for teaching special education.

“It seemed pretty interesting,” Harker said. “I decided to do it because I had the opportunity to take all these different classes.”

Although this change of plans cost her an extra semester, it was well worth it. Not only will Harker be able to teach deaf children, she’ll also be able to teach any student with special needs.

Harker’s student-teaching has given her the opportunity to experience a number of different teaching methods for deaf and hard of hearing students. Harker spent her 10 weeks at Johnson Street Global Studies in a classroom for deaf students, and the final five weeks at McLeansville in a special education resource room.

“I have been very fortunate that I’ve been able to see every side of deaf education,” she said. “We gave them whatever they needed to succeed and communicate.”

Harker will graduate Dec. 10 and is currently interviewing for teaching positions in several counties across the state.

Follow the conversation about December Commencement on social media by searching #uncggrad on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 


Story by Jeanie Groh, University Relations
Photography by Brian Speice, Photography Intern, University Relations