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CCPA student continues to connect with the deaf

By : Eric Coker

Alberto Sosa has always considered sign language his first — and natural — language.

“There are baby videos of me signing,” he said. “I’ve looked at them and thought, ‘Wow! That’s me signing at an early age.’”

Picking up sign language as a child was not a convenience for Sosa. It was a necessity, as both of his parents are deaf and mute. Young Alberto had to serve as a translator for his parents and two sisters.

“I had to mature very quickly,” said Sosa, a 22-year-old human development major in the College of Community and Public Affairs.

The maturation process became greater when Sosa and his sisters went into foster care following his parents’ separation. Living in the Cypress Hill section of Brooklyn also was challenging for Sosa.

“Growing up was very difficult,” said Sosa, who added that he entered foster care at age 11 or 12. “I’ve been exposed to gang violence and drugs. There have been times when I thought about going through that. But school has always been my second home.”

Sosa eventually lived with his grandmother, but remained apart from his sisters. He worked to improve his English and was admitted to Binghamton University. But it wasn’t until his sophomore year that he realized his first language could be his future.

Sosa’s revelation came after taking two American Sign Language classes with Dorothy Rice, adjunct lecturer in linguistics.

“Going to that first class showed me that sign language was definitely for me,” Sosa said. “It was so natural to me. I knew the material and I could help my classmates.”

As a junior, Sosa continued to help his fellow students as a teaching assistant. As a senior, he interned at Binghamton High School, shadowing a deaf student, helping with translation and learning about America Sign Language instruction. Sosa also served as a mentor for local elementary students who are hearing-impaired.

“They are the most adorable kids I have ever met,” he said. “It was a nice experience. The (internship) showed me the various ways I can get into different kinds of professions.

“Everything is for a reason. It’s so fulfilling. Every time I sign, it feels good.”

When not developing his deaf communication skills, Sosa serves as community service chairman for Lambda Upsilon Lambda fraternity and tutors three days a week for the Educational Opportunity Program.

Last summer, Sosa was one of 20 U.S. students selected by the Orphan Foundation of America to take part in Intern America. Each student spent six weeks at a Washington, D.C., organization. Sosa joined the non-partisan thinktank Reform Institute, where he researched immigration issues and health-care reform and took leadership and etiquette classes.

“It prepared us for the real world and kept us connected with people who had gone through the foster-care system and made it out of college,” Sosa said. “It was something out of my field, but it was definitely a learning and rewarding experience.”

Leo Wilton, chair and associate professor of human development, called Sosa “one of the most extraordinary, brilliant and talented students that I have ever taught over the years.”

“He really represents the heart and spirit of the Binghamton tradition of academic excellence,” Wilton said.  “Sosa’s intellectual abilities along with a keen perceptiveness and intellectual curiosity have provided him with the solid foundation required for the rigor of scholarly work in the field of deaf education. … He will be a wonderful asset in working with deaf communities.”

Sosa plans to go to graduate school and get a degree in deaf studies with a concentration in American Sign Language. The language has helped him stay close to his parents; his father lives in Virginia and his mother lives in Far Rockaway.

“I feel like sign language is what has kept us together,” he said. “You can’t forget those roots.”

Sosa said Binghamton University has allowed him to mature and become ready for what lies ahead.

“The community here is like a learning sponge,” he said. “You soak in what you learn from different people from different backgrounds.”

And as a mentor and future instructor, Sosa shared advice for children going through the foster-care system.

“Don’t ever give up,” he said. “You have to be determined and persistent. You can’t give up. Make it through college and graduate because there is a lot to gain.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08