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Deaf Mentor Biographies

Deaf Mentor Biographies

DHHS Region Map

Northwest Region

Linda Fairbanks

Photo of Linda FairbanksLinda was born in Austin, Minnesota and raised in the Spring Valley/Wykoff area in Southeastern Minnesota. She attended Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) as well as Rochester Community College (Minnesota). Linda was born deaf into a family with many other Deaf members. She learned ASL through her Deaf aunt and uncle on her mother’s side of the family. In addition to being married to a Deaf man, Linda also has three sons, two of whom are Deaf. Upon researching family history, they found they have a great-great-great-great grandfather who was also Deaf! 

Linda has been a Deaf Mentor since January 2015. She became a mentor after her daughter-in-law suggested she help fill the gap and connect families to ASL in the Northwestern Minnesota area. Linda knows that in rural areas it can be difficult to find resources. She enjoys being able to provide ASL to families that might not have been able to because of their location. 

Linda enjoys doing family tree building as well as spending time with her family and her Norfolk terrier cross, Sam! She is the president of the MSAD Alumni Association and writes and edits articles for them, as well as for the Evangelical Lutheran Deaf Association. Additionally, she is on the Proceedings Committee for the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens. She loves all the seasons Minnesota has to offer, but she is not into winter sports of any kind.

Michele Rolewitz 

Photo of Michele RolewitzMichele was born in Moorhead, Minnesota and raised in Fargo, North Dakota. She graduated from the North Dakota School for the Deaf and attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York. She has worked for North Dakota State University for the past 37 years as a Financial Aid and Scholarship Specialist. Michele was born deaf, weighing 4 pounds 7 ounces, as she was two months premature. Michele was taught ASL from birth, as her grandparents are both Deaf, and their children use ASL. 

Michele has been a Deaf Mentor since November 2013. She became a mentor because she enjoys teaching ASL to families with Deaf children. She has taught ASL at university, secondary and community education levels. Michele feels it is very important for families to have full communication with ASL. It makes her very happy to see Deaf children communicating with their family and friends in ASL. 

Michele has three daughters who have blessed her with eight grandchildren. She also has three cats. She enjoys gardening, canning, traveling, reading and spending time with her family. Michele has a knack for making others smile and bringing positivity to any situation. 


Northeast Region

Mandy MacDonald 

Photo of Mandy MacDonaldMandy was born and raised in Biwabik, Minnesota. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Minnesota – Duluth. Mandy was born deaf, but it went undetected until she was two years old. When she was two and a half, a teacher came to her family’s home and taught them sign language. She uses bi-modal communication by using ASL and spoken English at home. 

Mandy has worked continuously as a Deaf Mentor since 2009. Mandy became a Deaf Mentor because she felt the need to pay-it-forward from her family’s experience in having a teacher come to their home and teach them ASL. When Mandy was growing up, she loved attending large social events set up for Deaf and hard of hearing children. These events gave her a space in which she could belong and use the ASL she was given. Mandy also works for St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services. 

Mandy loves to read and is a huge fan of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. She loves cats and shares her home with three of them! Mandy has one hearing son, who is an ASL user. She is also in the process of becoming a Certified Deaf Interpreter! 


East/West Central Region

Stephanie Nutt 

Photo of Stephanie NuttStephanie is from Brainerd, Minnesota. She attended Gallaudet University majoring in Communication Studies. She works as a Direct Support Staff for a group home with adult foster clients. Stephanie became deaf at the age of two from spinal meningitis. She learned ASL with other Deaf children and interpreters after being enrolled in preschool. Stephanie was mainstreamed growing up, and attending Gallaudet gave her a rich, life-changing experience as well as improved her ASL. She uses bi-modal communication in ASL and spoken English. 

Stephanie became a Deaf Mentor in August of 2018. Having grown up as the only Deaf person in her family, she recognizes the need and impact for ASL and wants to help Deaf children have access to ASL. Stephanie loves to paint and loves dogs tremendously, she hopes to have a dog in the future. In 2017, Stephanie traveled to Costa Rica and rode on one of the top 10 ziplines in the world!

Sharon Rosen 

Photo of Sharon RosenSharon was born and raised in Melrose, Minnesota. She attended Minnesota School for the Deaf (MSD, now Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf) and received her Associate of Science degree in Horticulture/Landscape Design from the University of Minnesota, Waseca. Sharon was born deaf and has two brothers that are Deaf, in addition to her aunts, sisters-in-law, her nieces and nephews. Sharon started learning ASL at the age of seven through MSD. She is bi-modal in communication, using ASL and spoken English when needed. Sharon also works by helping her community church and teaching ASL at the local community center. 

Sharon has been a Deaf Mentor since 2000. She decided to become a Deaf Mentor because of her experience growing up. Sharon and her brothers grew up attending MSD, living five days a week away from their parents and having no access to a Deaf Mentor program. As a result, her parents did not sign, and their family struggled with communication as she was growing up. Her passion is to teach children and their families ASL and the importance of embracing Deafness/Deaf Culture. Sharon’s experience at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) really helped shape her sense of self because she was exposed to many different types of Deaf people from all over the country. 

Sharon’s hobbies include gardening, biking, photography, hiking and snowshoeing. She has been married to her partner for more than 30 years, and together they have four children who are fluent in ASL. She recently became a grandmother and is very excited about this new chapter in her life! She is also one of nine children, two of whom are ASL interpreters!


South Region

Amanda Bavlnka 

Photo of Amanda BavlnkaAmanda was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She has a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Psychology from Winona State University. Amanda was born deaf, but her parents did not discover this until she was ten months old. Her parents took sign language classes with her and she uses ASL as her main mode of communication. 

Amanda became a Deaf Mentor in April of 2015. She decided to become one because she wants to help parents communicate with their Deaf children; to help families include their Deaf children in their everyday lives instead of feeling left out. Amanda also works as a Special Education Program Assistant as well as a Deafblind Intervener. Amanda’s favorite hobby is reading. She also loves going camping and spending time with her daughter.


Edna Quinby 

Photo of Edna QuinbyEdna was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia until the age of 13, when her family moved to Orlando, Florida. She attended West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (WVSDB) and graduated from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. Edna currently works for the Mayo Clinic as a lab assistant in Cell Kinetics. She was born deaf and is the only Deaf person in her family. Edna started learning ASL in her mainstream preschool classes, and then became fluent after attending WVSDB. She has been married to her partner for 26 years and they have two beautiful hearing daughters. 

Edna has been a Deaf Mentor since September 2019. She decided to become one because growing up, her family did not sign. She felt left out and frustrated about not being able to communicate with her family and believes that no Deaf child should feel the same. She wants to teach parents ASL so that they can communicate with their child effectively and give children the means to express themselves. 

Edna is an avid dog lover and feels that dogs are like humans with their diverse personalities. She has a giant twenty-two pound yorkie and a ten-pound chi-weenie. Edna’s family is still back in Florida and they visit each other as often as they can, and they are thankful they can keep in touch through modern technology! 


Metro Region

Jeff Belevender 

Photo of Jeff BelevenderJeff was born and raised in Michigan. He has a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from Gallaudet University. Jeff was born deaf, and he has several other deaf family members throughout his family tree on both his mother and father’s side. Jeff learned sign language throughout secondary school, but he became fluent after attending Gallaudet University. Jeff has been a Deaf Mentor since June 2015. He decided to become a Deaf Mentor because he wanted to give back to other families with Deaf children, so they have better access than he did. Jeff felt that because he grew up with limited knowledge of Deaf culture and ASL exposure, he was missing out on something. It wasn’t until he went to Gallaudet that his whole world changed, and he found his place. Jeff is married to a Deaf woman and together they have two children, one of which is Deaf, but both are fluent signers. Jeff loves fishing, farming and is a handyman! He and his partner own a ten-acre farm that is home to many animals such as goats, ducks, horses and chickens. They run an organization that is a sanctuary for blind horses who need homes or extra care.

Jackie Correa-Alley 

Photo of Jackie Correa-AlleyJackie was proudly born in Puerto Rico and raised in Massachusetts. She graduated from New York School for the Deaf, known as Fanwood and received a degree in Data Entry and Business Clerk from Saint Paul College. Jackie primarily works as a Deaf Mentor. While Jackie is the only Deaf person in her immediate family, she has an aunt and other cousins who are Deaf. Her aunt gave her access to ASL as a child, which she expanded on in preschool. In addition to knowing ASL and English, Jackie is fluent in Spanish, making her tri-lingual! 

Jackie has been a Deaf Mentor since December 2015. She decided to become a Deaf Mentor because she had the desire to be a Hispanic role model for Hispanic Deaf children. She understands the value of learning the language the culture she was born in, giving her access to other native Spanish speakers. But when adding deafness to the many layers of communication, she also sees the need for parents and their children to have access to ASL. 

Jackie has been and still is, active in the Deaf and Hispanic Deaf community. She currently serves as the Vice President of Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens, is a board member of Deaf Women of Minnesota, and is a contributor to the New England Latino Deaf Association. In the past Jackie has taught ASL at all education levels from community education and up to college courses. She loves being outdoors, camping, traveling, sewing, and crafting silk flowers. 

Jackie nació con orgullo en Puerto Rico y se crió en Massachusetts. Se graduó de la Escuela para Sordos de Nueva York, conocida como Fanwood y recibió un título en Entrada de Datos y Empleada de Negocios de Saint Paul College. Jackie trabaja principalmente como mentor sordo. Si bien Jackie es la única persona sorda en su familia inmediata, tiene una tía y otros primos que son sordos. Su tía le dio acceso a ASL cuando era niña, que amplió en preescolar. Además de saber inglés y ASL, ¡Jackie habla español con fluidez, haciéndola trilingüe! 

Jackie ha sido Mentor Sordo desde diciembre de 2015. Decidió convertirse en Mentor Sordo porque tenía el deseo de ser un modelo hispano para los niños sordos hispanos. Ella entiende el valor de aprender el idioma en la cultura en la que nació, dándole acceso a otros hablantes nativos de español. Pero cuando agrega sordera a las muchas capas de comunicación, también ve la necesidad de que los padres y sus hijos tengan acceso a ASL. 

Jackie ha estado y sigue siendo activa en la comunidad sorda e hispana sorda. Actualmente se desempeña como Vicepresidenta de la Asociación de Ciudadanos Sordos de Minnesota, es miembro de la junta de Mujeres Sordas de Minnesota, es colaboradora de la Asociación de Sordos Latinos de Nueva Inglaterra. En el pasado, Jackie ha enseñado ASL en todos los niveles educativos, desde educación comunitaria y hasta cursos universitarios. Le encanta estar al aire libre, acampar, viajar, coser y hacer flores de seda. 

Julie Friesen 

Photo of Julie FriesenJulie was born and raised in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development from Gallaudet University. Julie was born deaf due to genetics, she has several family members on both sides that have various level of deafness. Julie started learning sign language with her parents when she was a baby, right after they discovered she was deaf. 

Julie became a Deaf Mentor in March 2018. She loves working with children and their families, teaching them as well as learning from them. Julie knows how important it is to be able to communicate with family, and being a Deaf Mentor allows her to give that to the families she works with. Julie’s primary job is being a Deaf Mentor, because her desire to teach ASL and bring Deaf children to the Deaf community is very strong. She brings excitement, joy and fun to all the families she works with. Julie is married to a Deaf man and they have two children who are fluent signers. 

Julie’s favorite hobbies are scrapbooking and watching Netflix! She is also involved in missionary trips and has been to Haiti five times through her volunteering experiences. Julie also comes from a very large family, with six siblings, the last of which is her Deaf brother. 

Julianne Kinney 

Photo of Julianne KinneyJulianne was born in Illinois. She grew up in several different states because her father was in the military. She graduated from the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) in Washington, D.C. and attended Gallaudet University. Julianne received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Metropolitan State University in Individualized Studies/Deaf Education and Advocacy with a minor in Human Service Disability Studies. Julianne was born deaf. She started learning sign language as a baby, after her parents took a proactive stance on taking sign language classes. Julianne uses bi-modal communication by using ASL and spoken English. Julianne works as a teacher’s assistant for a local school district. 

Julianne has been a Deaf Mentor since October 2017. She became a Deaf Mentor because it gave her a chance to share her story and make an impact on parents of Deaf children. Julianne also enjoys seeing parents and children grow and bloom when they learn ASL together. While Julianne credits her mainstreamed education for giving her a foundation in ASL, it was at MSSD that her life changed for the better. She found that with her Deaf peers, she was able to jump into more social activities and be a bigger part of the Deaf community. 

Julianne loves to read, travel, spend time with her family, go camping and be in nature. She is married to a Deaf man and together they have two sons who are fluent in ASL. Julianne has two dogs, one of whom is deaf and blind, and they both know ASL! Julianne is also part of the elite 10%, as a lefty!

Dr. Gloria Nathanson 

Photo of Dr. Gloria NathansonGloria was born and raised in Minnesota, and currently lives in White Bear Lake. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Language Development on Emphasis on those with Hearing Loss, from the University of Minnesota. Gloria also has her Doctor of Audiology degree from Gallaudet University. She is a professor at St. Catherine University. Gloria was born deaf, due to genetics. Because both her parents are Deaf, ASL is her native language. She has a Deaf brother and a hearing sister. Gloria’s partner is also Deaf, they have four children, two of whom are Deaf. 

Gloria has been a Deaf Mentor since 2012. She feels that it is ingrained in her professional and personal beliefs that she should share her knowledge with others. Because knowledge is power, she became a Deaf Mentor to empower families of deaf/hard of hearing children. 

Between teaching, raising her children, speaking at conferences Gloria loves to read, scrapbook and travel. In 1996, she competed for and won the title of Miss Deaf Minnesota!

Migdalia Rogers 

Photo of Migdalia RogersMigdalia is from Boston, Massachusetts. She received her Associate of Applied Science from Rochester Institute of Technology and works as a Medical Claims Processor for Arch Language Network. Migdalia became hard of hearing at the age of four due to an ear infection, and Deaf after an accident during a visit to the ocean. She learned to sign a in high school, but she flourished with her peers when she attended the National Technological Institute for the Deaf/Rochester Institute of Technology. Migdalia uses tri-modal communication in ASL, Spanish and Spoken English. Her grandmother was also deaf but passed away when she was only 16, and she has a daughter of her own that is hearing. 

Migdalia became a Deaf Mentor in March of 2019. She decided to become one because she loves to teach and educate, as well as recognizes the importance of ASL in deaf and hard of hearing children. She is active in the Deaf Community as a Treasurer for Deaf Equity and is currently working on a project for Deaf Domestic Abuse Survivors. In addition to being an independent thinker, Migdalia loves to read books, do crafts and play with her Maltese and Chihuahua!

Melissa Schroeder 

Photo of Melissa SchroederMelissa was born and raised in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. She attended the National Technological Institute for the Deaf and received her Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in the Administrative Assistant program. Melissa is a Referral Specialist for ASL Interpreting Services, Minnesota’s largest ASL interpreting referral agency. She was born deaf and mainstreamed until seventh grade and then transferred to Wisconsin School for the Deaf. Melissa’s parents chose to teach her sign language despite their primary doctor discouraging them from doing so. As a special education teacher, Melissa’s mother believe that she should have more access to language. As a result, Melissa’s parents learned sign language alongside her. 

Melissa has been a Deaf Mentor since April 2019. She became a Deaf Mentor because she wanted to help Deaf children connect with their family members. Her experience with her own parents was a blessing, and she wants that for other children. Having communication between a parent and a child will only strengthen their relationship. Being left out is one of the toughest things a Deaf child can experience, and being a Deaf Mentor helps her bring families and children together in their everyday lives. 

Melissa’s family is a blended family. She has raised her partner’s oldest daughter with him, as well as adding two more to the mix. With one Deaf child and two hearing children, ASL is happily used at home. Melissa loves walking, reading, being with her family and dogs. She loves hot weather and summer is her favorite season!

Mai Vang 

Photo of Mai VangMai was born in Thailand and moved to the United States when she was a year old. She lived in Kansas for a few months before settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mai was mainstreamed in the Saint Paul Public School district, graduating from Highland Park High School. Mai started learning sign language through her preschool’s Deaf and hard of hearing program. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Human Service Family Studies at Metropolitan State University. In addition to being a student, she works for another non-profit organization that serves the adult Deaf and hard of hearing community. She works one-to-one with adults supporting them in their everyday lives as well as academically. 

Mai has been a Deaf Mentor since September 2015. She became a Deaf Mentor because she wanted to serve and support her community by sharing ASL and Deaf culture. In addition to being connected to the Deaf community, she also has a connection to the Hmong and Asian communities. Being a Deaf Mentor allows her to use her skills and motivation to help build bridges for families in each of these communities. Mai is driven to showing Deaf children and their families that they have the potential to achieve anything they want in their lives. 

Mai loves working on do-it-yourself projects when she has the time. She enjoys watching her son play hockey and being with her family. Mai is a huge fan of watching movies on Netflix and Disney+. Despite having seen a lot of movies, she admits she has never seen a single Star Wars movie!

Leng Yang 

Photo of Leng YangLeng is originally from Fresno, California, but was raised in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota by way of Menomonie, Wisconsin. He received his Associates degree in Desktop Support from Hennepin Technical College in 2016 and works as a mental health worker in a group home. Leng’s hearing loss at birth was a result of being three months premature and he is the only hard-of-hearing person in his family. Leng started learning sign language through interpreters and deaf and hard of hearing teachers in Wisconsin, then picked up ASL with his peers in Minnesota. Leng is tri-lingual, having the knowledge of speaking Hmong, in addition to English and ASL. 

Leng has been a Deaf Mentor since June 2019. He chose to become a Deaf Mentor because he grew up wishing that more family members knew how to sign. He was appreciative of those who did learn, but struggled greatly with those who did not. He believes that ASL is hugely beneficial and is happy to be a part of the Deaf Mentor Family Program to give children and their families the opportunity to communicate with ASL. 

Leng loves to play video games or computer games, editing videos, listening to music, shopping online and socializing with his Deaf peers. He has also worked with another non-profit organization as a volunteer to help Deaf immigrant students learn ASL and English. Leng also helped them get accommodation for their level of communication.