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Part 1: Community Spotlight with the University of Minnesota Deaf College Bowl Alumni

A four part interview series

5/19/2020 10:00:25 AM

The 2012 team. Three players sit at a table with paper and pens in front of them. L-R: Justin Barlow, John Wilson, Tjay Middlebrook. Three people stand behind them, hunched over to fit in the frame, L-R: Sonny Wasilowski, Shawn Vriezen, Kaitlyn Mielke (holding a stuffed Gopher toy) . All are wearing maroon shirts with a stylized M-fist sign language symbol in center in gold.

The University of Minnesota Deaf College Bowl (CoBo) program was established in 2011 as a project under Deaf Student Ambassadors program. The team consists of four undergraduate players, two coaches, and program advisors from both U of MN Disability Resource Center and the Interpreting & Captioning Unit. The student and alumni-led program continues to participate in the Deaf College Bowl competition during the biennial National Association of the Deaf (NAD) conference which they have done since 2012. The NAD Deaf College Bowl competition began in 1988 with three schools participating (Gallaudet University, Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute of the Deaf (RIT/NTID), and California State University, Northridge (CSUN). In 2012, the competition welcomed non-traditional schools to join the national competition.The U of MN team is one of the four non-traditional schools that have joined Gallaudet, RIT/NTID, and CSUN in the game of brains.

With the current climate regarding the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 National Association of the Deaf conference has been cancelled, and thus so has the 2020 CoBo competition held during the conference. We have reached out to the alumni of the past four teams that represented Minnesota in the years 2012-2018 to share their experience, and how being part of CoBo has shaped their futures.

Due to the length of this interview, a portion of the interview will be released over a period of four days. This is part one of four. 

The Teams:

2012: Justin Barlow, Tjay Middlebrook, Shawn Vriezen, John Wilson.

2014: Maggie Bangert, Kyle Johnson, Johanna Lucht, John Wilson.

2016: Maggie Bangert, Kyle Johnson, Hennah McCoy, AJ Temple.

2018: Zakaria Einab, Autumn Moder, AJ Temple, Andrew Weber.

Part 1:

Questions 1-3

Why did you participate in the UMN Deaf College Bowl program?

Andrew: I wanted to represent Minnesota along with the UMN deaf community. At the same time, I wanted to experience more of what I experienced during Academic Bowl during high school. It was a good opportunity to get out there and do networking and just see other Deaf people!

Justin: I had some experience as an academic bowl player in High School, and this type of challenge intrigues me.

Kyle: I wanted to develop my knowledge skills plus be able to meet new people and develop friendships/networking.

Johanna: I was on the Alaska team for Academic Bowl in 2007. I got to go to the unknown with the team and meet different people, learning their background and experience. That really expanded my growth. I wanted to experience that again but as a young adult. Just as I thought, I learned much more. People do not hold back because you're an adult after all.

Maggie: I was involved with Academic Bowl in High School for a few years. In my 2nd year in college, the team asked me to join and I gave in and joined. I never looked back- thanks to them!

John: I wanted to show the community that a mainstream school could compete and be just as successful as other more traditional deaf schools.

AJ: I love playing trivia with friends. I participated in Gallaudet University's Academic Bowl as a high school student and wanted to continue in college.

Zakaria: It was a wonderful opportunity to network and meet new people, challenge each other’s knowledge of subjects, learning about different topics - all of that was very beneficial. It’s a great way to meet people!

Shawn: Several reasons, I used to be on the academic bowl team for years when Minnesota State Academy of the Deaf first started participating in the Academic Bowl. Sports were always fun but for me CoBo/Academic Bowl is what we had consistently won championships for. I always loved trivia and routinely liked to attend buzz trivia in restaurants for the fun of it. I also had never been to an NAD conference and I was really looking forward to attending one in Kentucky. It did not disappoint!

TJay: I was asked and I saw it as an opportunity to network with Deaf professionals before graduating college (cuz ma said adulting ain’t easy).

Autumn: To be involved with my Deaf Community and try out something new and fun. I had never been a part of an academic team like this! It was a fun experience!

The team meets once a week (in person or online via Skype) to practice quizzing each other with prepared PowerPoint games and flashcards in nine categories: Arts & Literature; History & Politics; Science, Nature, & Technology; Geography; Mathematics; Sports & Leisure; Deaf Culture & Heritage; Entertainment; and Current Events.

What were the highlights of being on the team (and attending NAD conference)?

Andrew: All of it! I loved every second of it. I wish alumni could've gone back one more time then it'd be even better. I thought the Hartford trip was really fun when we could get out and explore downtown Hartford.

Justin: The highlight is definitely the social aspect of the event, meeting new faces, and having a good time.

Kyle: I enjoy being in the competition with other teams. That was fun plus socializing with them.

Maggie: The gathering for practices, we have so many laughs and memories from that. First NAD [conference] I went to was in GA, and boy, that was fun and a big deal for me. I have never seen so many DEAF professionals in one room, I was amazed and I wanted to meet everyone. During the matches, it was nerve-wracking but so fun. I had that pride to show that my team and I are the Golden Gophers.

John: Going to the conferences and meeting so many other Deaf students and people from all over the country. At the 2012 conference, I got to meet Greg Hilbok and that was a fantastic experience.

AJ: I loved hanging out with my teammates and meeting new friends at NAD.

Zakaria: Visiting the exhibit hall and seeing many booths representing a small part of the Deaf ecosystem out there. Seeing the merchandise on display, the information about different agencies and organizations and network with folks that I might connect with in the future. It was a good way to develop a network.

Shawn: I think for me, the awe was being in Kentucky for the first time. Louisville had quite a bit of charm. Although their air conditioning is nothing compared to Minnesota. I would definitely return but with Minnesota powered AC. I remember it was sweltering outside and indoors felt slightly less sweltering. My Minnesota blood is not accustomed to keeping AC so warm. I also enjoyed meeting everyone. Our hotel rooms. the camaraderie between teams and the competition. Even some of our opponents, our paths continue to cross again and again in the future and we are all the better for it.

Hennah: The biggest highlight for me was I was already friends with Maggie, AJ, and Kyle, and so it worked out well to be able to go to the conference with them. We had lots of fun together hanging out, networking, attending different events, practicing, the competition itself, swimming (it was so hot in Phoenix!), going out to eat, and exploring downtown!

TJay: Meeting two non-traditional colleges competing. Nice to have someone you could relate to (as opposed to big conference schools ie Gallaudet, RIT, and CSUN). We were the underdogs playing the game with the big ones.

Autumn: Traveling with my team and meeting new friends from other schools.

What were some challenges you faced as a player?

Andrew: Challenges ranged from being rusty, communication, and the fact that College Bowl was a few degrees harder than I thought it would be. Add in the jet lag!

Justin: The challenge is definitely the lack of experience that UMN has in NAD College Bowl, so we ended up trailing other Universities from behind most of the time.

Maggie: Everyone has their own skills, and that means we each need to practice in areas that we have strength/weakness at. It's rough to tell college students to study more outside of their classes. Ha.

John: Fundraising. It really forced us to get creative in order to gather enough funds for registration, hotels, travel, etc. We ended up doing many successful bake sales and reaching out to our community for fundraising efforts. As one of the only non traditional schools to participate, it’s been a challenge navigating the system that was designed for the original three teams and working around these barriers.

AJ: Preparing for the competition as the potential questions were practically limitless.

Zakaria: The game itself! The subjects were challenging - fascinating, yes, but challenging. Overall, it was a great experience.

Shawn: Being on the sidelines during rotation. I was accustomed to being there throughout the game. Always wish we could just play everyone on the team straight through. Although it was a strategic challenge to figure out who plays what round. We came rather close to making it to the final three. Even though we did not, I still enjoyed watching the three teams play as it was our first time being there and I had never seen the competition on stage like that. Infinitely less pressure being a spectator!

Hennah: The Spring before the NAD conference, I was studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, so I couldn't practice with the team in person. Due to the time difference, we decided to have the coaches email me practice questions and answer them while timing myself, and then they would later email me the answers. Back and forth we went all semester. It was so nice once I returned to practice in person with the team because it was so much more fun practicing as a team than by myself! Sometimes we would practice at the U of M, and sometimes we would meet at Buffalo Wild Wings to practice using their remote consoles and their tv screens.

TJay: How to think and respond as a team such as when we had a disagreement, we had a hard time connecting as a team.

Autumn: Remember so many RANDOM facts that I would have never known.

In addition

The UMN CoBo team is grateful to receive the majority of their funding and support from the community. Past and current sponsors have included the following:

  • Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens
  • Minnesota Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
  • ThinkSelf Minnesota Deaf Adult Education & Advocacy
  • Metro Deaf School
  • Bridge Communications
  • Balanced Boutique
  • sComm

From the University of Minnesota community:

  • Disability Resource Center
  • Interpreting & Captioning Unit
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Student Ambassadors
  • Disabled Students Cultural Center
  • UMN Bookstores
  • UMN students, faculty, and community members who bought treats from our bake sales!

MNCDHH has also been a partner.

And YOU. Because of your support, the UMN CoBo team is truly a community team at heart.

Follow the UMN Deaf CoBo team on Facebook!


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