Hooked on Research Yes, there is a critical shortage of students entering graduate programs in the area of communication sciences and disorders. And, yes, this situation threatens to lead to a dearth of faculty in our universities, which, in turn, will make fewer qualified people available to train clinicians and to perform research—both ... Features
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Features  |   May 01, 2002
Hooked on Research
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Hearing Disorders / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   May 01, 2002
Hooked on Research
The ASHA Leader, May 2002, Vol. 7, 7-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR.07092002.7
The ASHA Leader, May 2002, Vol. 7, 7-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR.07092002.7
Yes, there is a critical shortage of students entering graduate programs in the area of communication sciences and disorders. And, yes, this situation threatens to lead to a dearth of faculty in our universities, which, in turn, will make fewer qualified people available to train clinicians and to perform research—both frightening scenarios for the professions and the people they serve.
But this by now familiar—and very real—gloom and doom scenario is not the entire story. There are some exceptional individuals who plan to head off the problem. These are the 17 recipients of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation’s 2001 master’s and doctoral scholarships.
Their interests in the fields of audiology and speech-language pathology are wide-ranging—from genetics and ethnographic studies and infant hearing and neurolinguistics to voice, stuttering, swallowing, augmentative communication, and many other areas. They come from all over the United States—and several have international roots.
Their reasons for pursuing graduate work are as diverse as their rich backgrounds, but they are united by a single, passionately held ideal and the tenacity to pursue it—the certainty that, directly or indirectly, their efforts will improve the lives of the people their work will touch.
Multilingual, Multitalented
Quintilingual? There’s not even a word for Veronica Pimentel’s knowledge when it comes to languages. She knows five—Spanish, French, English, as well as her native Portuguese and Creole.
Pimentel arrived in the United States in 1992 from the Cape Verde Islands, which are off the northwest coast of Africa. She came, she says, “with one goal in mind: the pursuit of a good education.” And pursue it she did. She completed high school, entered the University of Connecticut honors program—she graduated in 2000 with degrees in communication science and Spanish and French—and is currently completing her master’s in audiology at Purdue University.
At Purdue, where she is working on her thesis under the guidance of Elizabeth Strickland, she chose to do research in psychoacoustics because it was the area least explored during her course work. “I wish to learn as much as possible about different aspects of audiology during my master’s career so I am able to make an informed decision about which area to concentrate on for my PhD work,” Pimentel says.
After she’s awarded her master’s this summer, Pimentel—who received an ASHFoundation graduate scholarship underwritten by the Minority Scholarship Fund—plans to spend the next two years gaining clinical experience and finding out more about other areas of audiology. Eventually, she’ll use her knowledge both in the clinic, probably working primarily with children, and the classroom, training future audiologists.
That’s Pimentel’s goal—“to use my education and research findings to positively influence other people’s lives and to help my own students become good clinicians and researchers so that they too can make a difference in people’s quality of life.” But she has a dream as well—to expand access to audiology in Cape Verde and “enable free audiologic services to children as well as educate parents and teachers. They need to understand the potential harmful impact of hearing loss on speech, language, social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development, as well as on a person’s occupational and economic potential.”
Striving for Excellence
As an undergraduate student at Pennsylvania State University, Cari Michelle Tellis was already interested in communication disorders. Her uncle had experienced a stroke, so Tellis’ academic interests naturally gravitated to the area of neurogenic disorders.
She then went on to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where she took a variety of courses, including two in voice disorders and fluency. She completed her degree under the direction of Scott Yaruss, and, by that time, Tellis says, “I recognized that I was hooked on research. I knew, though, that to be a quality researcher, this was just the beginning.”
After completion of her master’s, Tellis served her clinical fellowship experience at the University of Pittsburgh Speech, Language, Swallowing and Voice Disorders Center, where she was involved in the assessment and treatment of vocal pathologies and also gained experience in acute care. It was that experience, along with the knowledge she had gained as a master’s student—plus her own personal experience as a classic and operatic singer—that convinced her to pursue doctoral studies.
Tellis, who received a graduate student scholarship from the ASHFoundation, is now on her way to a PhD at Pittsburgh where, still—again—under the mentorship of Yaruss, she’s focusing on fluency and voice disorders. Her long-term plan is to teach and pursue research at a university, but to keep one foot in the clinic—“It keeps you on your toes.” She wants to inspire in her students the passion for the field of communication disorders that she feels. “I intend to inculcate in my students a need to strive for excellence so that they may expand the scientific base of the profession and provide invaluable professional help to those in need,” she says.
Incidentally, it’s all in the family—Tellis’ husband is a faculty member in the area of communication disorders at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As a graduate student, he too received an ASHFoundation grant.
Choosing to Walk a Tightrope
Jason Davidow would love to walk a tightrope—in fact, it’s the goal of his work in speech-language pathology at the University of Georgia, where he’s completing his master’s degree and entering the PhD program.
“I compare the life of a teacher and researcher to that of a tightrope walker,” he explains. “The trip across is exciting and terrifying—with deadlines and tenure review for professors—yet when the other side is finally gained, there’s a feeling of exhilaration that nothing can match. I hope to feel that when I complete my doctorate and again each time I help someone with a speech disorder lead a better life.”
Davidow—who holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is a recipient of the ASHFoundation graduate scholarship for a student with a disability—is drawn to the field of communication disorders for both personal and intellectual reasons. He has stuttered, he says, “for as long as I can remember” and knows well the emotional and physical toll of the disorder. Davidow feels that his own intimate connection with stuttering will be a “priceless asset” during his research career.
But Davidow is well aware that the fact that he stutters does not make him an instant expert in stuttering research. He knows he has a lot to learn and, from the time he took his first undergraduate class in the field—with Roger Ingham—he’s been fascinated by the challenge of something that “has perplexed great minds for centuries.” He’s now studying with Anne Cordes Bothe at Georgia and, with her help, is learning all he can and beginning the process of narrowing down the broad area of stuttering to what will become the subject of his doctoral research—and, perhaps, his research well beyond the PhD.
Aside from the area of stuttering, Davidow is in love with the whole academic world. He sees it as the place that lays the foundation for the future. “I believe that the knowledge people obtain makes them who they are and leads them to what they do with their lives,” Davidow says. As for what he will do—“I have always believed in devoting my life to aiding others. To me, bettering myself means bettering others.”
Making a Difference
All of Pushpa Parvathy Ramachandran’s friends were going into engineering and medicine. But she wanted to do something different. She had already earned two bachelor’s degrees—one in audiology and speech rehabilitation and a second in special education—in her native India, and she had her own plan for her future. The first step was to come to the United States to earn a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. She arrived in the summer of 2000, alone, with a great deal of motivation and the full support of her close family.
The motivation is paying off. Ramachandran—who received the ASHFoundation’s graduate scholarship for an international student, underwritten by the Kala Singh Memorial Fund—will finish her master’s in June at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. The next step is to complete a graduate internship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Swallowing Center and Aphasia Center, where she will sharpen her clinical skills. Then it’s on to a PhD.
And then? “My goal is to establish a center in India that will specialize in an interdisciplinary approach to the management of individuals with dysphagia and aphasia,” Ramachandran says. She adds that the facility she envisions would also function as a training and research institute.
The field of speech-language pathology is relatively new in India, just over 30 years old, but Ramachandran explains that there’s a growing awareness of its benefits in her country. “There’s a lot of emphasis on early intervention now in India,” she says. “People are realizing that catching those with communication disorders early is cost effective. If we can treat the disorder early, a more productive individual can enter society.”
How to Help
Did you know that, since its inception, the ASHFoundation has granted awards totaling $2.9 million to 2,250 graduate students, doctoral and post-doctoral researchers, and outstanding leaders?
Although the ASHFoundation has met the challenges of the past, it must do even more for the future. We need the support of all ASHA members and friends to continue supporting talented students like the ones profiled here. Give today to your profession’s Foundation, the one national organization that can directly increase funding for education and research in communication sciences. Contact the ASHFoundation office at 301-897-7341 for charitable contribution information.
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May 2002
Volume 7, Issue 9