Student Hopes Genetics Will Raise the Voice of the Deaf

Megan Majocha's schedule will leave you breathless.

As an undergrad, she worked three internships. She knows three languages and is a dedicated follower of the very popular medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” Add to that a love of reading, working out, and baking, all while graduating from university.

Majocha says she studied biology and wants to be a doctor because her parents are deaf. Her siblings are hearing.

“My favorite class ... was human genetics,” she said, “especially related to deaf genes and what makes us deaf, and I learned about the community. All of that was very fascinating for me.”

Because Majocha is deaf, too.

“I think I was about five or six years old, and I was sitting on my dad’s lap, and we were having a conversation and my dad said, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’” she recalled. “And I kind of sat and thought about it and he said, ‘Do you want to be a teacher?’ And I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Do you want to be a police officer?’ I said, ‘No.’ So I did sit and think about it and my response was, ‘I want to be a doctor.”

Majocha attended Gallaudet University in Washington, "the world's only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students," according to its website. The 150-year-old institution is the world's largest publisher of books about and for the deaf community. Students come from the United States and more than 25 other countries, and can earn bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in American Sign Language (ASL).

ASL is not a boutique language limited only to people who know someone deaf. It is the third-most studied language in the United States after Spanish and French, according to the Modern Language Association. Between 2009-2013, enrollment in ASL classes increased 19 percent. It was more popular than learning German, which came in fourth, the MLA said.

“The deaf community is very small, and being a part of this community is an honor,” she said. “It really helped me stand up for what I believe in, to fight for my own rights."

After graduation, she worked with the Magee-Women's Research Institute in Pittsburgh in the reproductive biology department as the only deaf employee there.

“But people were willing to learn a little bit of sign language to increase their awareness and knowledge of deafness,” she said, advising the hearing abled to “ask questions and be open about knowing our culture and our community.”

Majocha is working now as a post-baccalaureate fellow at the National Cancer Institute, a part of National Institute of Health, on genetic research.

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