College for deaf has come a long way in 30 years

College for deaf has come a long way in 30 years

Staff Writer

Considering the school began with a converted military hospital and not much
else, it’s fair to say SouthWest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf has come
a long way in three decades.

Current and former students and staff, as well as a long list of
well-wishers were present on campus this past weekend as SWCID celebrated
its 30th reunion.

While fun and games were also on the reunion agenda, the event mainly gave
people a chance to reflect on just how far SWCID, the only self-contained
community college for the deaf and hard of hearing the United States, has
come since its first class enrolled in 1980.

The Howard County Junior College District created SWCID in 1979 and the
first class, which consisted of about 25 students, attended classes for the
first time early the next year.

Danny Campbell, who has been an instructor at the campus since the school’s
inception, said SWCID’s first executive director, Dr. Douglas Burke, had a
grand vision for the school despite its humble beginnings.

“When I first came here, there was just one building, the old (Webb AFB)
hospital — and you could tell it was a hospital,” Campbell said through an
interpreter. “But Doug didn’t see maternity wards or surgical suits or
patient rooms, he saw classrooms and offices and a library and a cafeteria.
I remember how excited Doug was when we went through that building for the
first time.”

Campbell said the rest of the campus was mostly “groundhogs and dry, ugly
land” at the time, and student dormitories were converted World War II-era
barracks that some parents would not allow their children to live in, but
Dr. Burke envisioned other buildings, such as a diagnostic center, student
union building and other structures, which have become a reality in recent

Dr. Burke’s wife, Beatrice, was an instructor that first year and said her
husband’s enthusiasm and vision for the school helped her overcome some
initial misgivings.

“At first, I wondered if my husband knew what we were getting into,” Mrs.
Burke said through an interpreter. “Honestly, I had some some doubts,
although I never told him about them.”

Howard College President Dr. Cheryl Sparks, who was HC dean of students at
the time of the first classes at SWCID, said the school’s humble beginnings
were unavoidable.

“We knew we’d have to make do with the facilities we had at the time,” she
said. “And adjusting those facilities to the needs of deaf students was a
unique experience, to say the least.”

Over the years, however, the college has grown, in both student count and
buildings, as well as services provided.

Aside from modern dormitories and activity center, the school recently
unveiled a 5,000-square-foot career technology center. And student
enrollment is currently on the high side of 120, Sparks said.

“And we’re not finished,” she said. “We have the buildings, faculty, staff
and tradition in place. Now, we just need to get the greater world to
embrace what has happened here.”

While the major thrust of the reunion was to look back, Dr. Mark Myers,
SWCID’s current provost, said the institution also is looking forward to the

“SWCID is the only community college in the nation to provide full
instructional services to the deaf and hard of hearing. It is unique,” Myers
said through an interpreter. “We will continue Dr. Burke’s vision and legacy
and my vision for the future includes improvements in educational
opportunities, such as building support for distance learning classes … Big
Spring is a small town and we realize it is difficult for most people to get
here, so we need to be creative in reaching out to them.”

Mrs. Burke said her husband, who died in 1988, would approve of the
school’s progress and future direction.

“I think he would be very satisfied and pleased and I think he would be a
bit overwhelmed,” she said. “I’m amazed how SWCID could come from a dream
that many people thought would not be possible. We planted an oak tree that
has grown, and its roots are spreading.”

Contact Staff Writer Steve Reagan at 263-7331 ext. 234 or by e-mail at
[email protected]


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