NewsAug 2, 2017

Becoming a champion for the deaf community

Laura Geidel '17 wants to support deaf students and their families as they navigate a hearing world

Laura Geidel on a hike through the mountains.

In her childhood, Laura Geidel bounced from school to school until she finally found a place where she fit in.

While she has positive memories of high school, Geidel, who grew up in Vermont, never felt that she received adequate support as a deaf student, so she’s decided she wants to be that support for others.

A recent graduate from our counseling program, Geidel says, “I really want to help the deaf community and be able to give them direct access” to counseling. She is preparing to enter a graduate social work program at Smith College.

Finding a niche

Geidel was born in Colombia and adopted at 3½ months old by Nancy Braus and Rich Geidel. The couple, who own a bookstore in Brattleboro, were in the process of adopting from Asia when they got a call saying a baby in Colombia needed a home. They flew down and fell in love with her, says Geidel.

Not long after, her parents discovered she couldn’t hear. The family studied sign language, but Geidel found it challenging to communicate with extended family, so her two older sisters often ended up interpreting.

“Lip reading is very laborious,” she says. “I had some hard times.”

After trying several schools for deaf students, Geidel finally found her niche at the mainstream Brattleboro Union High School, but there were still times when communicating with peers and teachers was challenging, despite having an interpreter.

Following graduation, Geidel attended Rochester Institute of Technology before deciding to transfer to Lesley her junior year and pursue her B.S. in counseling. While she’d once dreamed of being a nurse, over time Geidel realized she was a good listener and gave good advice, so she gravitated toward counseling. Lesley was a natural fit.

“I felt like it was a great match for me,” says Geidel, who appreciated the small classes and strongly opinionated students. One of a few deaf students on campus, she was often accompanied by an interpreter, but students studying American sign language also reached out to her, making her feel all the more at home in Cambridge.

“It makes me feel really good that people are trying to communicate with me,” she says.

'Work hard and persevere'

Geidel’s resolve to succeed was apparent from her first day on the Lesley campus, says her advisor Katherine Barone.

“I actually requested her when the head of advising said we had someone who was hearing impaired, since I wanted to make sure she had the chair's help and guidance for her chosen career,” says Dr. Barone, who is chair of the psychology and applied therapies program. “I shouldn't have worried. Laura is one of the most determined people I have ever met.”

An eager student, Geidel would sometimes prefer to communicate with Barone by handwritten notes in the latter’s office rather than wait for a translator. As a result, Geidel’s student file is filled to the brim with these speedily scrawled notes.

“She is persistent and patient, but wants to get things done now,” Barone remarks.

As Geidel immersed herself in her coursework and the community, a career path began to unfold. Her major involved internships at a senior center, a government agency and a school. All three focused on working with the deaf population.

“It’s really made me grow up. It’s made me grow as an individual,” she says. 

Geidel appreciated interacting with the various age groups, but felt the deepest connection with kids.

“Every time I went into the schools, I felt a huge passion there,” she says. Geidel could relate to the students’ experiences because of her own childhood, struggling to communicate and to be understood by hearing persons. Growing up, Geidel often felt like deaf students were underestimated and lumped together as if they all had the same histories, interests and challenges. She would like to be a voice to debunk such misconceptions and to advocate for deaf children.

“I just want to support the families and support the kids and their needs,” says Geidel.

To do that, the 24-year-old Geidel plans to pursue her master’s degree in social work at Smith College. She will take a year off before launching into graduate school in June 2018, and then she’ll be ready for more hard work.

“My goal and motto in life is to work hard and persevere.”