Tuscaloosa, Ala – Mary Caroline Yuk, a recent graduate of The University of Alabama (UA), has been recognized as a Luce Scholar by the Henry Luce Foundation for her work on hearing healthcare disparities and gerontology.
Yuk and her older brother Patrick were born profoundly deaf but gained the ability to hear through cochlear implants and Auditory Verbal (AV) therapy. Now, she works alongside leading scholars, researchers and advocates to improve and grow AV therapy among low-income households world-wide.
As an undergraduate, Yuk enrolled in Dr. Darrin Griffin’s special topics class, “Perspectives on Deaf Culture.” A two-time NSF grant winner, Dr. Griffin is an associate professor and the Communication Studies interim chair in the College of Communication & Information Sciences. Yuk worked alongside Dr. Griffin and Dr. Sevgi Zubeyde Gurbuz to develop sign language recognition using radar and machine learning, which aims to make technology more accessible to American Sign Language. The project combines communication, neuroscience and accessibility research to help hearing impaired individuals use sound-only technology like voice search.
“Dr. Griffin is a remarkable and rare professor, to whom I owe a great deal of credit for metamorphizing my conception of deafness. I am now a more considerate and sensitive scholar as a result of taking his class and working with him on initiatives that aim to help the underserved, such as the ASL radar detection technology project,” said Yuk.
She also worked with Dr. Griffin on a successful project to test the effectiveness of a clear mask for both D/deaf and hearing students at the University of Alabama during classroom instruction. A clear mask creates accessibility and provides a world of difference for deaf students in the classroom, but the product can prove beneficial for everyone. Transparent masks can also be a great resource for students who know English as a second language and neurodivergent students. To demonstrate this, they conducted a survey to assess whether a clear mask was also beneficial for the larger student population. They had 19 professors wear the clear mask for one class period and polled 148 students to assess their opinion of the clear mask.
Yuk then created and produced a video in collaboration with the Center for Public Television at University of Alabama; Dr. Griffin; Dr. Natalie Adams, an associate professor of Social and Cultural Studies; and Dr. John Miller, associate professor at New College. In the video, researchers interviewed three deaf and hard-of-hearing students about their their experiences during the pandemic, as well as their opinion on using clear masks during lectures.
“In class, it was immediately evident that Mary is the kind of person who is multicultural in her experiences, thinking, communication and research interests,” said Griffin. “She is a STEM scholar who understands the value and impact of her education in communication, and I believe her work will make large impacts on both scientific and cultural communities.”
Yuk graduated from UA as the Catherine J. Randall awardee and is a Marshall Scholar, the first deaf scholar in the history of the award and UA’s first recipient in over 40 years. As an interdisciplinary studies major in UA’s New College, her work blended information science and neuroscience by better understanding deafness and bringing AV therapy to underserved Alabama communities. Recently, she received her master’s degree from University of Oxford, where she researched corticofugal projections’ role in spatial hearing. Currently, she is working with Dr. Sarah Hogan and Auditory Verbal UK, the U.K.’s leading AV therapy provider, to analyze and profile deaf children’s sensory integration difficulties and seeking a second master’s in Medical Anthropology from University of Oxford.
The Luce Scholars Program is a nationally competitive fellowship that empowers 18 young leaders to seek professional experiences in Asia. The program is open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents and provides stipends, language training and professional placement across a variety of fields.