Erik Pintar taught his friends some American Sign Language over a meal at Resnik House at Carnegie Mellon University.
A freshman in computer science at the time, Pintar led the table by signing the theme song for the show “Pokémon”. Intrigued by the short lesson, they encouraged Pintar to teach a class.
“I had a lot of fun sharing this experience,” said Pintar, who was born with profound hearing loss. “I grew up learning sign language before I even remembered it. I was sort of ashamed of sign language growing up because it made me different. It was Carnegie Mellon that I got. realized it was a good thing that I knew. “
He then created a Student College course (StuCo) titled “Sign Language Through Pop Music”. First taught in the spring of 2014, Pintar and others have offered the course every semester since. He also embraced signing at college in other ways. While attending church, he began to feel compelled to sign with worship music.
Pintar focused on pop songs as the basis of teaching sign language to make the lessons fun. Over the years, students have signed songs like “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
“I think the first thing is to help students understand that American Sign Language is its own language in its own right. A lot of people think of it as a signed version of English. helps them understand that it has its own grammar and structure – that can be a difficult concept, ”he said. “Some people take on the shape of the hands very naturally. Others need a little more coordination and practice.”
Pintar taught the StuCo course five times before graduating in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and an additional major in human-machine interaction.
“I think the most important thing for me that students take away from the course has been to share the beauty of sign language itself and to spread the joy of signing and the joy of experiencing a language. visual instead of a spoken language, ”he said. “Second, to make students better understand the experience of someone who is hard of hearing or deaf and feels that empathy. “
As a software engineer in Google’s Pittsburgh office, he offered the course twice to colleagues and interns, as well as a seminar on understanding different disabilities in the workplace.
In 2019, Pintar left Google and joined a seminar to become a parish priest.
At CMU, former students carry on Pintar’s legacy, often using the video resources he created and adding new material. Every semester he contacts to see if anyone needs help with final projects and translating songs. Past instructors have included Alayna Tillman, a senior in business administration and English; Julia Kang, senior in psychology; and Katherine Forrester, who graduated in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering in 2019.
This fall, Sydney Dunn, junior in electrical and computer engineering, and Summer Abraham, junior in psychology and social and decision-making sciences, are leading the course. Each has served as teaching assistants in the previous semesters and also completed the course.
The course includes sections on Deaf Culture and continues to use much of Pintar’s curriculum.
“We are not members of the hearing impaired community, but we and previous teachers have always said that if someone is deaf or hard of hearing and was interested in teaching it, we would take a step back,” Abraham said.
Pintar said he was happy the class continued.
“I hope people can apply what they learn,” he said. “Especially if they have a parent who has hearing loss or who is deaf, or even run into someone at the grocery store, it really makes someone happy to find someone who knows sign language. am always happy when someone can sign. “