WOU Students Support TEDx Salem Event, Mission

TEDxSalem ASL interpretationWOU students interpret Dr. Jerry Braza's talk at the 2017 TEDxSalem event.

The TED Conference motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and Saturday at the Salem Convention Center, more than a dozen Western Oregon University students will help advance that mission.

For the second year, seniors in WOU’s Interpreting Studies program will get valuable, real-world American Sign Language interpreting experience as they share the stage with presenters at the independent TEDx Salem event. Visiting WOU Assistant Professor Vicki Darden has worked with both undergrad and graduate students to make the opportunity available again in 2018 after the 2017 assignment proved exceptionally beneficial.

“As a professor and as an interpreter, it is so gratifying to see young interpreters advancing their skills,” Darden said. “It was clear after last year that the real-world experience was remarkable. The students showed exceptional professionalism the day of the event and during the long preparation – which is all volunteer. Opportunities like this are rare and valuable. These students will become my future colleagues, and it’s great to see them grow.”

The TEDx Salem theme in its fifth iteration is “Through the Looking Glass.” The conference is expected to attract 1,000 attendees this year after welcoming about 700 in 2017.

In the pilot year of the collaboration, every student was paired with a professional interpreting mentor who helped them prepare for the “talks,” which usually are about 15 minutes long and can cover a range of very specialized topics. That level of specificity can be a challenge for ASL students, hence the preparation phase.

“Most people think interpreting is a simple word-for word-substitution, but that’s not how languages work,” Darden explained. “To interpret the topic, you have to understand it in both languages and in both cultures. The students have to take in both the linguistic aspect and the conceptual aspect. It’s a lot of preparation. There are hours of work and feedback from mentors and adjustments.”

In addition to interpreting during the live TED talks, the WOU students offer translation on the video versions of the presentations that live on YouTube. So after their appearance on stage, the students further tweak their interpretation for the video.

One student who worked the event last year said she used that video as a work sample for employers. Multiple students were offered positions as interns or employees for different companies, including Purple Video Relay Services, which supported and mentored last year’s interpreting participants.

“The students recognize the importance of the contacts that they made last year,” Darden said. “It’s a high-profile event to be involved with. But the supportive safety net gave them confidence, and now they can talk about this experience in (job) interviews. Now that they contacts in the profession, they can ask for referrals or recommendations. That ability to make the most of job opportunities is what we are looking for.”

Tickets are available for TEDx Salem, which is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Salem Convention Center. In addition to the talks, the event features performances of music and dance as well as a full lunch and a swag bag. Tickets are $60 at the door and $50 for students.