Growing up in Cleveland, Aja Leatherwood knew of Case Western Reserve University thanks to its location in her own backyard. She was accustomed to seeing faculty, staff and students’ successes in the news, and as time passed she aspired to join their ranks.
Upon applying to the university, Leatherwood learned about the Emerging Scholars Program, an initiative that offers academic support and intensive advising to graduates of Cleveland-area high schools. She chose to enroll, and—now a first-year student majoring in communications sciences— credits the program with improving her time management and study skills, ultimately preparing her for a stronger start to her college career.
And she definitely hit the ground running.
In her first semester, Leatherwood founded the American Sign Language Club at CWRU after realizing the university lacked the offerings in sign language she was hoping to pursue.
“In the summer before my fall semester, I decided I was going to create my own club in order to be the change I wanted to see,” she said.
Since launching last semester, the club has focused on giving native signers and those learning sign language the chance to mingle. But Leatherwood hopes to expand the group’s purview to include discussions on dialects of American Sign Language and discrimination against the deaf community.
Through her work with the organization, Leatherwood aims to foster a more inclusive environment on Case Western Reserve’s campus. In addition to her work with the American Sign Language Club at CWRU, she is part of a universal design project with Lauren Calandruccio, associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, to edit syllabi to be digitally accessible.
Leatherwood’s efforts all connect back to her career goals as an aspiring speech language pathologist.
“In my career, some of my patients may be deaf, hard of hearing, or selectively mute,” she said. “Knowing American Sign Language can help with facilitating treatment without the use of a translator.”