During course registration for the first semester of my first year, the unthinkable happened—my Wi-Fi crashed. The courses immediately filled, and I was left disappointed and on the waitlist for Introduction to Cognitive Neuropsychology. As I was scrambling to piece my schedule together, I saw First Year American Sign Language (ASL) was open. It aligned with some of my interests and previous volunteer work, so I decided I would enroll. If I got off the waitlist for cognitive neuropsychology, however, I was definitely switching into that class.  

I instantly fell in love with my ASL course. Learning about deaf culture and new vocabulary words was exciting. Our instructor, Professor Sampson, taught with a zeal that made every lesson engaging and fun. It quickly became my favorite class, and I was always looking forward to it.  

In-class clownery while we learned how to give commands
One of my favorite units was learning the signs for different languages
Professor Sampson let us email him cat pictures

Just when I had forgotten about cognitive neuropsychology, I got an email saying I had made it off the waitlist. I was conflicted. Cognitive neuropsychology was more beneficial to my neuroscience major, but ASL was what I truly wanted to take. At the time, I didn’t see how ASL could relate to neuroscience, but I took it anyway, and I’m so glad I did.  

My Halloween costume for extra credit

With such a small class size, it was easy for us to get to know Professor Sampson. One of my favorite memories from class was playing Jeopardy to review for our exams. On Halloween, he taught us holiday-themed vocabulary and brought us all candy. He even offered extra credit to anyone who showed up to class in costume.

After such a great experience, I wanted to continue with the next semester of ASL. This semester was even more fun than the last one. We took a free class trip to Washington, DC. There, we toured Gallaudet University, an institution for deaf and hard-of-hearing people and visited the Signing Starbucks. But the highlight of my semester was when Professor Sampson mentioned he was recruiting undergraduate students for his neuroplasticity and development research lab. He told us the lab’s focus was to examine how different developmental experiences (specifically blindness and deafness) affect the brain and to reach out if we were interested in joining. Since research is a requirement for neuroscience majors and I was genuinely excited about the lab, I knew it would be a perfect fit.  

After I joined the lab, I helped with one of their ASL projects and attended a DEAFOPIA trade show event in DC where we explained what our lab was studying to deaf/hard-of-hearing individuals. Through these experiences, I finally realized how interconnected neuroscience and ASL are. This led me to choose cognitive neuroscience as the focus area for my major and find some upper-level neuroscience classes that I plan to take like Neuroaesthetics and Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.  

Our booth at DEAFOPIA

The flyers we handed out at DEAFOPIA
Our principal investigator bought us keychains at DEAFOPIA

Working in the lab has also expanded my interests beyond ASL. There are numerous projects in the lab studying blindness. I’ve been lucky to assist with some of these and attend the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland State Convention, where we explained our research to blind individuals.  

Our booth at the National Federation of the Blind Maryland State Convention

My time in Professor Sampson’s lab has reaffirmed my desire to work with people shaped by their unique life experiences. This has connected me to clubs on campus like Special-Education Teen Empowerment Project (STEP) and Believe in Art. My experiences in the lab, however, have also refined my interests in ways I didn’t expect. It helped me realize what area of neuroscience I’m passionate about and even inspired me to enroll in an ASL medical terminology course in my free time.  

I’m so thankful for my Wi-Fi crashing on course registration day. Without it, I never would’ve discovered my favorite class or found a mentor who has helped shape my future academic and career goals.