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MSU Profiles

A love of the language

MINOT, N.D. - Hannah Nelson decided to take an American Sign Language (ASL) class simply to fulfill a credit need.

She was interested in the class, but after changing her major once after her freshman year, the elementary education major wasn't looking for another career change.

But something happened during the class - she fell in love with the language.

"I knew it was going to be a good skill to have, it's learning a foreign language," she said. "It was a great class, I started from the ground up, but the class was really helpful and fun and I think that is why I picked it up so fast. We played games, had speakers come in, went bowling - that's a fast way to learn the language, going to an event and only using it. There wasn't a lot of pressure and it was a really fun way to be introduced to the language."

And, her involvement with ASL didn't end when the class did. Nelson stayed active in the deaf community in Minot, making new friends and expanding her abilities.

That led her to earn her American Sign Language Pin this fall with Starbucks. Nelson approached Minot Broadway Starbucks manager Kristi Rosselli with the idea at the start of the year.

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"She asked me if I knew about that pin," Rosselli said. "I said I did and I thought of her when I saw it. She asked if she should try to get it I said, ‘Let me know what I can do to help.' She got the interview and earned the pin. When someone does something awesome, we try to get it out to all our managers. We have something called Starbucks Workplace, basically an internal Facebook page, and shared the accomplishment there with managers nationwide. It really makes me proud when they want to go out and do more for the community."

Nelson is presently the only Starbucks employee with an American Sign Language pin in North Dakota, according to Rosselli. Having the pin has already paid dividends at the Broadway Starbucks location.

"People tend to be afraid of the deaf community, they think it is this whole other world, but they are just people," Nelson said. "Learning just a little bit of the language makes them so happy. Minot doesn't have a large deaf community to begin with so a lot of people probably don't know a deaf person. The first time I was able to use this skill at work, (the customer) was pretty excited."

Nelson learned of the pin after seeing posts about fellow baristas wearing green aprons with "Starbucks" embroidered in ASL fingerspelling that were distributed throughout the country on Instagram.

"I saw that and got excited," she said. "Starbucks does a great job taking care of its employees and wants everyone to feel welcome, so I wasn't surprised this was an option. I hope it shows other companies they can do this too."

"One of the reason I decided to become a partner eight years ago was the open array of diversity and inclusion at Starbucks," Rosselli said. "I think it is important in any business you run - service is something we take pride in and encourage our partners to be involved. We are involved in Pride, the Women's Alliance network, the Deaf Alliance network, and other networks. It is nice to stretch people's minds and Starbucks allows us to do that."

Nelson, a senior from Minot who will graduate from MSU in the spring, plans to continue to learn ASL and use it in the classroom as she prepares to move on with the next phase of her life.

"I was able to use the language in my practicum," she said. "And it's exciting for me to be able to use this in my career. MariDon (MariDon Sorum, MSU instructor in special education) is a great instructor and I'm glad I took the class and was introduced to the language."