PORTLAND, Maine — A soon to be graduate from the University of Southern Maine (USM) has accomplished a first. Regan Thibodeau will be the first deaf person from Maine to earn her PhD in Maine. 

Thibodeau has been teaching classes at the college since 1998. She understands what deaf culture is like and helps her students, learning to be interpreters of American Sign Language, understand it also.

"Part of this job is to really inspire the next generation of interpreters, knowing that they can learn what I teach and develop an ethical and moral compass as well as sign language and interpreting skills to improve their perspectives and remember that there's a deaf person here and you need to put them first," signed Thibodeau. 

Thibodeau successfully defended her dissertation at USM and will graduate with a PhD in Public Policy this month. An accomplishment that the deaf community should be proud of and that serves as an inspiration for students like Rebecca Fransman.

"I really feel like Regan is a role model for all of the students," Fransman signed. "We've been on this journey with her for some degree. I've taken six classes, while Regan has been getting her PhD and it's really been an amazing experience to watch Regan go through this process and really learn from her and learn about the process from her."

According to Regan there are only 400 deaf people in the country with PhDs and only 700 world wide. Her degree has a concentration in educational leadership because she wants to inspire other deaf people to pursue a higher education. 

"One of the things I'll be working on is encouraging other deaf people to get their PhDs to allow us a seat at the table at the system's level. Whether its politics, or policy."

When USM holds its graduation ceremony, there will be a group of PhD students with one deaf person among them. A woman making sure those in the deaf community are represented by other deaf people and those who interpret for them.