Senior Emily Haynes was so overcome with emotion when she received the first-ever Phyllis Perrin Wilcox Scholarship that she could only use sign language to express her gratitude.

Haynes, a signed language interpreting major, received the scholarship through the linguistics department.

Private donations completely funded the award, said graduate student Bryan Rasmussen.

Haynes said the community’s support might strengthen the program itself by encouraging more students to enroll in it.

“The growth of this program represents strides in the deaf community,” she said. “As this program grows and develops, we have better interpreters and more interpreters for our community.”

Rasmussen and fellow graduate student Vicki Brown organized the scholarship fund after an anonymous donor gave $5,000 to the department.

Jeffrey MacNutt, the development officer for the humanities department, said the community contributed to the final scholarship amount.

“The real unique nature of this scholarship is that it has literally been contributions from everyone within the community, which is rare. Endowments are generally big contributions from families in their own honor. This is just a labor of love … very grassroots,” MacNutt said.

The scholarship is named for Phyllis Perrin Wilcox, who began the signed language interpreting program at UNM in 1983. Wilcox said Haynes received the scholarship for her scholastic achievements and commitment to the UNM sign language program.

Haynes is a member of the Phi Betta Kappa Honor Society, is fluent in French and maintains a 4.0 GPA. She also attended the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Conference this summer.

Haynes said her love for sign language began at age 14, when she volunteered at a camp for individuals with special needs. She said some of the campers were hard of hearing, so she used basic sign language to communicate with them.

Hundreds of students register each semester for sign language courses, but Wilcox said only 15 students are accepted each year to enter the program as signed language interpretation majors.

The scholarship will be awarded on a yearly basis — so long as there are enough donations — to a signed language interpreting student, based on his or her academic achievement, service to the community and ethical values.