Computer science grad develops communication technology for the deaf community in ASU classrooms

April 30, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Dylan Lang lost nearly 90% of his hearing because of a condition called profound bilateral hearing loss, and he has personally experienced how the lack of resources impact the deaf community. Photo of the featured graduate, Dylan Lang, wearing technology from his venture on his head and heads Dylan Lang found his career path at a young age through creating mods for his favorite video games. The idea for his venture, EqualComm, was created in ASU classrooms. EqualComm is focused on eliminating barriers to information by revolutionizing communication technology for the deaf. His goal is to improve communication for people with hearing loss; he is shown here against a green screen capturing movements for an avatar. Download Full Image

He was drawn to ASU for its entrepreneurial mindset, and it changed his thinking throughout his undergraduate career to find solutions to various real-world problems. The venture he developed while at Arizona State University, EqualComm, is an app geared toward empowering deaf individuals to bridge communication gaps.

Lang graduates this May with a bachelor of science in computer science through the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, plus a certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation. He has won a number of awards through the Venture Devils program run by the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute, including $25,000 through the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative and $10,000 through the Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge. In 2021, he was a semifinalist for the ASU Innovation Open.

Learn more about him in this Q&A below.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: When I was younger, I enjoyed creating mods for my favorite video games. Seeing how a simple mod can modify the actions of a video is really fun to watch. From there I realized this is what I want to do for a job. I looked into careers in programming, software development and game design. I found this career path fun, rewarding and empowering. Now that mods are more widely accepted in PC gaming, it is fun to create and share my own creations, while also looking for inspiration from other creators.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The idea for EqualComm was born in the classrooms here at ASU. EqualComm is focused on eliminating barriers to information by revolutionizing communication technology for the deaf. When I was in high school, I did not have any support system for being deaf. At ASU I finally saw the accommodations I can utilize to support my disability. Being deaf is challenging in an educational environment because most information is relayed in an audible manner. I grew up hearing and speaking in English, so having CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) is awesome. My class lectures are delivered to me in a text format with real-time actions, allowing me equal access to my hearing counterparts.

Here at ASU, I started the Deaf Devils club, which is aimed at engaging the deaf community while also promoting deaf culture and awareness. In my two years as president, I've met an awesome cohort of deaf students and community supporters. We have hosted events with deaf speakers, brought together the hearing and deaf community, and learned the importance of self-advocacy. Additionally, this club allowed me to learn American Sign Language (ASL) to conversational proficiency so I can communicate with members who are fully deaf. Learning ASL taught me how linguistically and grammatically different it is when compared to English, providing a learning challenge for students that are deaf.

One statistic stands out: 47% of deaf individuals are not in the labor force. Why? It is rare for employers and educational institutions to offer the support system ASU offers their deaf students. I have learned how important equal access is. ASU has taught me that I need to advocate for other deaf individuals like myself, while also creating innovative and novel solutions that support us.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will begin to focus entirely on growing my startup. This summer I will be working with retailers to get my products into thousands of retail stores across the United States. The goal is to continue to build revolutionary businesses that help create value for everyone and ultimately make this world a better place.

Q: What problem does your venture, EqualComm, solve?

A: Twelve percent of the U.S. population is deaf. One million Americans are completely deaf and rely on American Sign Language. The deaf community is disadvantaged in routine daily life. In addition, current solutions to captioning and interpretation are inadequate or cost-prohibitive. Forty-seven percent of deaf individuals are not in the labor force.

EqualComm aims to solve these problems. We see the opportunity to educate hearing individuals in American Sign Language and provide real-time virtual ASL interpreting. These solutions allow for the delivery of spoken content and conversation in a deaf individual's native language, ASL, while eliminating any chance of content being lost in translation.

Discover more about Lang and his venture by reading this feature in the winter 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine, and watch this video on the establishment of the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute. 

Health entrepreneurship and innovation grad pursues passion after an injury

April 30, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Dana Rasmussen became hyper-focused with how the body works and how to optimize its functioning after tearing her ACL in high school soccer. This was a primary driver for the focus of her career. Headshot of the featured graduate, Dana Rasmussen Dana Rasmussen, a New American University scholarship recipient, graduates summa cum laude this May with a bachelor's in science in health entrepreneurship and innovation through the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Download Full Image

Her decision to major in health entrepreneurship and innovation at Arizona State University was because of many factors in her life that cultivated a general interest in biological sciences while at Sandra Day O'Connor High School.

She got involved with the sports medicine program with her mentor, Jennifer Guerrette, and is now a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She had other great mentors and support at SDOHS, notably from Scott Lannen (chemistry and adviser for the Chief Science Officer Program), Ronda Cunningham (English teacher and role model), Michel Candela (for French and worldly life lessons), Uriah Cross (history and "the best storyteller of all time") and Assistant Principal Justin McLain for believing in her leadership. 

Rasmussen said the the injury taught her that without our health (including mental, emotional, physical), we cannot live our most fulfilling life.

“Dana has been a standout health entrepreneurship and innovation student since she walked on campus and introduced herself her freshman year.  She has been an enthusiastic student, an entrepreneurship catalyst with the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute and a student health innovation club leader for the past two years. She has created a legacy for herself and is leaving big shoes to fill. I’m beyond excited to see where she goes from here,” said Rick Hall, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation clinical professor and senior director of health innovation programs.

Rasmussen, who hails from Peoria, Arizona, is graduating this May summa cum laude with a bachelor's of science in health entrepreneurship and innovation from the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Students of this program are prepared to create and sustain cultures of innovation in health care. While at ASU, she received the New American University scholarship.

Read more about Rasmussen in this Q&A below.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Look forward to milestones, but realize that you live your life each day. That day is your life. This day is your life. So live this day and that day in the way you want to live your life.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: The first thing that really drew me to ASU was the affordability. I was an in-state student and getting offered the New American Scholarship — to me it was silly to pass up the opportunity to go to such a forward-thinking school at such a negligible price. It wasn’t until I actually started attending classes and getting involved with research and organizations that I began to realize I chose one of the best schools in the country not just for its affordability but for the culture of “You wanna do something? Do it, and start now!”  

The professors and faculty treat students as if we are the geniuses that are going to change the world (I mean … they’re not wrong). Being surrounded by an atmosphere of belief, accountability and innovation has infused the foundation of who I am with the building blocks of a successful and rewarding life.   

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: There are so many of my professors that have taught me important lessons at ASU. I had Professor Kenneth Kunkle at West campus for my COM 225 class (public speaking). He taught me the value of authentic communication and to focus on growth, not perfection. He cares so much about the success of his students, not just in college but in life. I can genuinely say this might have been the most impactful class to my personal development while at ASU. I’m so thankful I had Professor Kunkle early in my college experience. 

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention Dr. Rick Hall, who technically wasn’t my professor but has been a supportive and guiding mentor throughout my college experience. Dr. Hall embodies the ideals of ASU and the “just start” attitude that he seems to instill in any student he has a conversation with.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: You’re not going to have your life figured out by 21, so stop expecting yourself to. If you’re anything like me, you might want to have the course of your life penciled out so you guarantee that your life makes a difference in the world.  

My best advice to you is to loosen the reins, explore the things that spark your interest, and let yourself be carried away in that exploration. Realize that there are things that you think you have figured out, but in a year will be 180 degrees different. And also realize that there are things that you think you have figured out that will be the same a year later.

Take action. Take big action when it makes sense, and take small action when that’s all you feel like you can do. Is there a hobby you’ve wanted to do but haven’t? Start doing it; don’t wait until you have all your coursework done for the week. Trust me when I say there will always be another thing to do for school, so stop putting off the things that you enjoy. Find a way to embed them into your life. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite study spot on campus is the new Hayden Library. During the cooler months, I like the tables outside of it overlooking the lawn.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I had to solve the one problem completely with $40 million, the only problem that it could solve is my sports car infatuation. In my career, the problems that I intend to tackle take more than a pocket full of millions. 

To truly solve the major problems of our world, we need an interdisciplinary network. Forty million is a great start, and I would take any step, however small or big, to tackle the quality and efficiency of the food system. The food system is incredibly complex and has an effect on the health of our bodies, the planet and the economy.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’ll be continuing my education at ASU with a Master of Science in human systems engineering to start tackling those big, complex and interdisciplinary problems!