Modal Math's June 2020 Person of the Month
Meet Michelle Gerson-Wagner. She's an RIT/NTID grad that runs the DHH Middle School National Math Competition and the Explore Your Future program. This fun-loving human is making a direct impact on the field and is a name worth knowing.
Tell us about your educational background.
I was in a deaf and hard of hearing program from age 4, until the 6th grade – in 6th grade, I was mainstreamed for half the day, and in Deaf classes with a Teacher of the Deaf for the other half. I was fully mainstreamed at a public junior/senior high school with a large Deaf program; I started mainstreaming full-time in the 7th grade, until I graduated high school.
After graduating high school, I went to RIT/NTID for my undergraduate education, where I started out as a business management major – eventually switching over to Communications while keeping a business marketing concentration. After graduating, I went to work in Washington, DC – but ended up returning to RIT after a year for the opportunity to be an admissions counselor and to obtain my graduate degree in Service Leadership and Innovation. Both my Comm and SLI degrees allow me to center my work around people, and I absolutely love it. I now coordinate youth programs for Deaf and hard of hearing K-12 students both on- and off-campus, and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite programs to run is our annual middle-school Math Competition, and our summer Explore Your Future program.
What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?
Sean Forbes has a song called “Little Victories” where he talks about his accomplishments are not in spite of his deafness, but because he took his deafness, harnessed and used it as a strength. It’s because of that he was able to accomplish many, many great things: hit songs, international recognition, a TED talk, and much more. I really relate to the lyrics, especially when he says “Never felt like an anomaly/Never cared about doing this perfectly/Little victories/Little
victories/Little, little, little, little victories/Don’t feel sorry for me/…but glad they found a space for me”. He goes on to thank people in his life that really believed he could do anything he wanted. Like Sean, I had very supportive parents and teachers who believed anything was possible, and pushed me hard. It was because of their support + great sense of self I was able to be successful; some of my personal accomplishments include traveling the world, earning my master’s, working at jobs I’ve love, and having served as President (and fundraised thousands of dollars) over the last few years for a non-profit I care deeply about. I also possess great public speaking skills and consider myself to be an excellent motivational speaker for deaf and hard of hearing youth. I also have incredible friends, and a very loving family with my husband Jason and two little boys, Lucian (6) and Ansel (2).
How has ASL helped you reach your goals?
It has allowed me to obtain and share information freely. I love this particular analogy: using ASL is akin to a four-lane highway, with an incredible amount of information coming and going at dizzying speeds, while trying to lipread and/or understand speech is a muddy, unmarked dirt road – you’re familiar with the road, but bad weather (think: a bad encounter) can cause the whole thing to be a “wash”. Also, knowing ASL (and thus being part of an incredible community rich with culture and language) has allowed me to have an incredible sense of self and confidence most would give their right arm for!
What is your all-time favorite sign? Why?
Oh, man, what a great question. I don’t think I have a favorite sign per se, but I absolutely love watching ABC stories. One example is this amazing Matrix ABC story by Jeremy Lee Stone – he is a gifted performer and definitely worth a follow on YouTube!
How has being Deaf/HH helped you in life?
It’s definitely given me grit to get through difficult parts of life. I also believe being “different” with a “disability,” as it has given me humility, and has evolved me into someone considerate, open minded, accepting and inclusive.
How do you think technology is helping Deaf kids learn today?
Subtitles, closed-captioning, high-tech hearing aids and listening devices, and everything in between – D/HH kids have so much more resources and accessibility compared to a kid of the ‘90s (me!), but there is definitely room for improvement. I also believe social media (and the internet in general) has opened up doors and a whole wealth of information that wasn’t quite available to older Deaf generations.
What is some advice you have for young Deaf children?
Fortune favors the bold – which, in sort, means that good things will come to those who go after what they want. As I mentioned before, the sheer amount of resources, information and support is at your literal fingertips, and NOTHING is impossible if you keep trying, trying, trying.