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UT Austin honor student Christopher J. Moreland’s research may help deaf children learn sign language more efficiently

Honor student Christopher J. Moreland of Hurst has seen a transformation in himself during his academic career at the University of Texas, and he believes it has made him a better person.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Honor student Christopher J. Moreland of Hurst has seen a transformation in himself during his academic career at the University of Texas, and he believes it has made him a better person.

“I’m more capable of seeing a situation from different angles, from other people’s perspectives. It has helped improve my communication skills. I can relate better to other people, and I think they can relate better to me,” said the senior Plan II/pre-medicine student who will be graduated in May. He plans to apply this summer to attend medical school.

Moreland’s impressive 3.89 grade point average and an honor this spring as recipient of the University Co-op Undergraduate Award for Superior Intellectual Achievement clearly show his ability to learn. But his record of achievements and activities also reveal his intense desire to help others in the learning process. His Plan II thesis, now in progress, involves research on sign language acquisition by deaf infants. One possible application of this kind of research might be to help develop ways to teach American Sign Language to deaf children more efficiently.

Moreland’s thesis focuses on the arm and hand joints used by deaf infants as they acquire American Sign Language, and how the joints they use compare with those used by adults whose native language is American Sign Language. Moreland’s work has been praised by his project adviser, Dr. Richard P. Meier, department of linguistics, as well as by Dr. Elizabeth Keating, department of anthropology, for whom he works about 15 hours a week as a research assistant.

Learning about sign language did not begin for Moreland on the college level. He was taught sign language as a child.

“I’ve been deaf since I was about 1 or 2 years old,” said Moreland. “I was born hard of hearing, and I had a series of ear infections that weakened my ears. By the age of two, I was profoundly deaf.”

Moreland said his parents decided to teach him “Signed English” and made arrangements so that ever since second grade he has had an interpreter in the classroom.

“I didn’t have a problem maintaining the same academic level as the rest of the kids,” said Moreland, who was graduated magna cum laude in 1995 from Richland High School. Outside the classroom, he developed ways to interact socially with his classmates, by either using sign language or speech, depending on the signing abilities of the individual.

Moreland was heavily involved in his high school’s theatre department, both as an actor and crewmember, and his participation in theater and dance productions has continued at the University. While not in the research lab, he also finds time to assist in teaching martial arts to students ranging from young children to senior citizens. Moreland is a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

As a University citizen, Moreland participated in “Gone to Texas” last August, giving a short speech introducing new students to the resources available at UT Austin. His memberships on campus include Phi Kappa Phi, Golden Key National Honor Society and Plan II Pre-med Society.