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Deaf intern thrives in civilian service

Intern signing

Tina Banerjee, a deaf summer intern at the 88th Force Support Squadron, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, communicates with a combination of speech and signing, during a meeting with co-workers. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- Tina Banerjee is an Air Force Materiel Command intern with a unique challenge: she was born unable to hear.

Banerjee works as a summer intern through the Air Force Premier College Intern Program as a management analyst in manpower and organization, 88th Force Support Squadron Manpower and Organization Office, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. She is a senior at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, studying criminal justice and will be graduating in May 2019.

“Most people don’t know sign language or anything about deaf culture, but when I came in to the organization, the staff was so welcoming and warm and open. They wanted to learn different ways to communicate with me,” she said.

Banerjee is one of more than 300 Air Force interns that have been placed in AFMC wings and centers through the Secretary of the Air Force PCIP initiative, which focuses on the recruitment and retention of high-caliber candidates to fill professional and wage-grade positions across the Air Force. Designed as a summer internship experience, the program participants work side-by-side with Air Force employee mentors and gain exposure to cutting-edge technology and projects. Upon successful completion of program requirements, participants may have the chance to obtain future employment with the Air Force after graduation.

This is the fourth internship for Banerjee, who has volunteered or been employed as an intern in both government and civilian organizations. She has interned at the Department of the Treasury in Cincinnati, the Department of Homeland Security in the District of Columbia, Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities, and the Rochester Institute of Technology National Technical Institute for the Deaf Office of Public Safety.

“I have always wanted to work for the government, to serve people and protect our homeland. The Air Force feels the most compelling to me because of its values and mission,” Banerjee said.

On daily projects, she works most closely with team member, Darian Jeri-Greene, who in order to enable better communication with Banerjee, learned a few words of sign language.

Greene views working with a deaf teammate as a unique opportunity to develop his process more by being able to speak to someone who is hard of hearing.

“As a member of the team, she just welcomed herself in and began. There were no hurdles, whatsoever. She brings a unique perspective to the job and the Air Force mission,” Greene said.

Banerjee labels herself as a deaf/hard-of-hearing person who speaks and uses American Sign Language. Growing up in the public school system in Neptune, New Jersey, she flourished in a deaf education program. Through the mainstreaming process, she had the opportunity to attend regular classes and interact with her hearing peers. Services such as speech therapy were provided to help her be successful.

“I was born unable to hear. My father is hearing, but my mother and four siblings have hearing loss. It is a genetic condition,” she said.

As a deaf person, Banerjee has moved through life seeking what some might view as unattainable for her, she said.

“If you are someone like me who struggled, or still struggles with their identity, regardless of your disabilities, color of your skin, gender, background—breaking barriers starts with you. Step out of your comfort zone, and open that door. Be flexible, and go for it!” Banerjee said.

Banerjee plans to return to Wright-Patterson in 2019 as a Palace Acquire intern.

For more information on Air Force civilian service, visit www.afciviliancareers.com. Current openings are also listed on www.usajobs.gov.

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