The Beat of a Different Leader Meet 12 audiologists, speech-language pathologists and scientists who bring their communication sciences and disorders backgrounds to highly influential positions in corporations, research funding agencies, university systems, state and federal government—and more. Features
Features  |   November 01, 2015
The Beat of a Different Leader
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Hearing Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2015
The Beat of a Different Leader
The ASHA Leader, November 2015, Vol. 20, 46-61. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.20112015.46
The ASHA Leader, November 2015, Vol. 20, 46-61. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.20112015.46
Entering graduate school, students typically picture themselves doing exactly what the degree prepares them for: teaching, perhaps, or practicing medicine, designing buildings or coding electronic games.
In the case of audiology or speech-language pathology, it’s obviously treating speech-language, swallowing, hearing and balance problems—or, if the student goes on for a PhD, it’s teaching and conducting research in these areas.
But life can take some interesting turns. Some who earn degrees in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) wind up in positions they never envisioned for themselves.
Positions like what, you ask?
Well, like running a state university system. Or developing a pragmatics-based autism program used internationally. Or protecting workers’ hearing at 3M. Or influencing legislation and policy in a state legislature or federal agency. Or overseeing grant programs at NIH.
We interviewed 12 CSD professionals who’ve taken such paths, and share their stories here. Though their pursuits are wide-ranging, they share some commonalities: All have drawn on their CSD backgrounds to get where they are. All were motivated to attain new heights after starting their CSD careers. All marvel at the flexibility and strong foundation of a CSD degree.
And all have shown marked leadership as they’ve pushed through boundaries to make a broad impact on our world.
—Bridget Murray Law Editor-in-Chief, The ASHA Leader
The Born Leader
Tommie L. Robinson Jr., division chief of hearing and speech, Children’s National Health System, Washington, D.C.
By the time Tommie L. Robinson Jr. was in graduate school, it was clear to other people that he was on his way to big things.
As a graduate student at the University of Mississippi, the speech-language pathologist recalls a comment from Thomas A. Crowe, the chair of his master’s thesis committee, after Robinson had earned enthusiastic reviews from students in a class he’d taught.
“He looked at me and said, ‘I think you’re on your way to becoming ASHA president,’” Robinson laughs. Indeed, he served as ASHA president in 2010.
But it was much earlier that Robinson had discovered an innate guiding ability—even if he hadn’t yet labeled it as “leadership.”
“I didn’t know that’s what it was, but yes, I think that I was always a leader,” he says. “I love interacting with people, and that’s what leadership is about—empowering and helping people to get to that next level.”
Couple that passion with Robinson’s personal motivations—including witnessing the “pain and the frustration” felt by his sister, who stutters—and you understand his mission to become an SLP. It’s no surprise that today, Robinson is the division chief of hearing and speech at Children’s National Health System, overseeing everything from clinical work to administration to research, and an associate professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. He’s also an adjunct professor at a handful of other schools, including D.C.’s Howard University and Gallaudet University, as well as Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“One of the joys in my life is watching my former students go on for their terminal degree, to find their niche,” says Robinson, who values his own mentors. “Facilitating them through that process is just so rewarding to me.”
Robinson also has a habit of volunteering on a head-spinning number of boards and committees. He says getting involved early in his career with ASHA, the District of Columbia Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing opened doors and aligned him with mentors. Today, his list of extracurricular activities has expanded, including positions on the D.C. Higher Education Licensure Commission (former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams appointed him personally for that one), the board of directors at the Gettysburg Seminary in Pennsylvania and the National Lutheran Communities and Services parent board in Rockville, Maryland.
It’s not shocking, he says, that audiologists and SLPs seek leadership roles. “There is something about our skill set … that’s inherently related to [those positions],” he says. “If we are, in fact, communication experts, then we’re able to communicate with anybody and everybody in so many ways, and that becomes the door to leadership opportunities.”
—Haley Blum, writer/editor
The Science Influencer
Christopher A. Moore, dean, College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College, Boston University
Chris Moore always knew he was going to be a scientist. Growing up in China Lake, California—the Mojave Desert location of a naval air weapons station—he was surrounded by PhD-level engineers, physicists and other scientists. He chose speech science because it combined his love of scientific quantification with his fascination—spurred by “fabulous teachers”—with foreign-language learning and psycholinguists.
He completed all of his clinical preparation in speech-language pathology, but never sought certification. “I loved research and the lab,” he says. “I went straight through to the PhD knowing I could still help people through research.”
Moore spent 22 years in academia researching the early physiologic development of speech production. He also realized how much he enjoyed helping to prepare graduate students. “I knew I could have a broad influence by developing, supporting and helping to shape the work of others,” he says. After stints at Wichita and Pittsburgh, he landed at the University of Washington, eventually serving as speech and hearing sciences chair.
Moore followed his wife, Margaret Rogers, when she relocated in 2007 to join the ASHA staff in Maryland. He worked as a grant review officer at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and then as the scientific program manager for sensory systems and communication disorders at the Department of Veterans Affairs. In these large research programs, he influenced the direction of science, ensuring a fair and efficient grant process, promoting promising areas of identified research need in veterans’ health, and administering VA research on speech, language, hearing, balance and vision.
Moore returned to academia after seven years to take his current position. “Being a dean has the welcome familiarity of broad scientific influence,” he says. “You support everyone, from prospective students to internationally recognized faculty. The tangible accomplishments come when students graduate with superior preparation, a treatment approach is adopted as a standard practice, or a researcher publishes an influential paper. Those are the outcomes that matter for an academic administrator.”
To follow his path, “you have to be content with seeing your influence realized through the efforts of others,” he says. “You have to play the long game, to take on broader, community-focused responsibilities.”
But you also have the latitude to tackle “wicked” problems, such as the restructuring of health care and rehabilitation: The aging population requires proportionately greater attention to treatment of disabilities; the definition of disability is widening; and costs are rising. Responding to the ensuing demand for patient-centered, cost-efficient care, Moore has focused support on interprofessional education, implementing a cross-departmental faculty position in interprofessional education and practice to promote an outcomes-based focus.
“You start with one person, one program or one idea,” he says, “and you provide the support necessary to propagate the concept through education, clinical training and research.” And that, Moore says, is a way to creatively chip away at a “wicked” problem.
—Carol Polovoy, managing editor
The Opportunity Builder
Dawn Ellis, education program specialist, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
Dawn Ellis’ world has come full-circle.
A grant from a federal personnel preparation program made it possible for her to earn a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Now, almost 30 years later, she works for that same program, helping to provide similar benefits to others.
Ellis brings her expertise in historically black colleges and universities, and with children with disabilities and their families, to her position in the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)—part of the U.S. Department of Education. She helps oversee the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) “discretionary funds,” distributed as grants to colleges, universities and other organizations to support personnel development and other initiatives.
As a high-schooler in California, Ellis wanted to be a child psychologist. A minority enrollment quota kept her from her first-choice state university, so she headed to Bakersfield Community College. The decision proved fortuitous. After working as an assistant to a speech-language pathologist there, she set her sights on becoming an SLP.
She earned a bachelor’s degree at California State University, Northridge, and applied to Howard University (Washington, D.C.), not sure how she was going to pay for her master’s. But Howard faculty had applied for—and received—an OSEP personnel preparation grant for pediatric SLPs, which helped fund her education. Ellis then worked in several clinical settings and at Oklahoma State University, where she was first exposed to grant writing and review, and co-directed a federal personnel preparation training grant.
Ellis joined the ASHA staff in 1994 as project director of two Education Department grants to spread the word to audiologists and SLPs about changes to the IDEA infants and toddler program. “I liked clinical work,” she says, “but I enjoyed doing different things related to infants and toddlers—teaching, having contact with colleagues, and being in a leadership role.”
When the grants expired, Ellis returned to Howard to earn her doctorate and to teach, and was on the Gallaudet University faculty before joining OSEP in 2007.
“I was happy in academia,” she says. “I loved working with students and doing research. But I didn’t like the pressure of publishing and, well, the salary wasn’t that great!”
At OSEP, Ellis publicizes training grant opportunities to universities and organizations and oversees a minority institution grant competition. She’s also the office’s eyes and ears for communication sciences and disorders. For example, ASHA asked OSEP for help disseminating information about its new tool to assess the value-added performance of SLPs in schools; Ellis suggests OSEP grantees consider the tool as an evaluation resource and encourages faculty at their schools to include it in the curriculum. She also spearheaded CSD awareness activities at the Education Department for Better Hearing and Speech Month.
“I see myself as a leader, but not always out in the public eye,” Ellis says. “At the end of the day, everything I do—writing talking points, posting a blog entry, reviewing a grant application—is related to helping the lives of people with disabilities. And that’s rewarding.”
—Carol Polovoy, Managing Editor
The Collective Thinker
Michelle Garcia Winner, founder of Social Thinking
There was never a plan for this.
Michelle Garcia Winner never planned to go from working as a high school speech-language pathologist to creating one of the world’s most widely used intervention programs for people with social learning challenges. Heck, there wasn’t even a business plan.
“When Social Thinking was 10 years old … I said, ‘Well, we did the first 10 years without a plan, so maybe the second 10 years we should try to have a plan?’” laughs the San Jose, California-based clinician/author/speaker/CEO, reflecting on the last 20 years. “Because really it’s just been about [keeping] my head down, working.”
But that’s the key. While others may dwell on the growth of a business for business’ sake, Winner has become one of the most well-known and respected names in social communication, not in spite of, but because of her singular focus on client needs. She still runs her own private practice, where Winner employs and trains fellow clinicians to work on social communication with high-functioning people with autism and other disabilities. They use Social Thinking’s six-layer methodology based on social pragmatics, the ability to monitor and adapt social skills. Winner also oversees publishing and speaking/workshops ventures of the Social Thinking brand, which keep her frequently on the road.
And while she may not have consciously planned to start a business, Winner says her prior experiences as an SLP—working at an autism center, in a hospital setting with traumatic brain injury and stroke populations, in high schools and then in private practice—set her on the path.
“Everything informed the next stage, and I don’t think I could have developed this at all if I were sitting in a bubble, having one paradigm and one view of the world,” says Winner, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and her graduate degree from Indiana University.

“I don’t think I could have developed this at all if I were sitting in a bubble, having one paradigm and one view of the world.”

In Social Thinking’s infancy, shortly after Asperger’s syndrome was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as a disorder separate from autism (it would be reorganized again in 2013 under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder in DSM-5), Winner set out to fill a void she saw in treatment of social skills for this type of highly verbal person with social-learning problems. At the time, most of the discussion surrounding Asperger’s was still focused on diagnosis, she says. After making her first conference presentation in the early stages of Social Thinking, people clamored for more.
Based on that demand, which has only grown over the years, she’s written books, created materials, given workshops, trained clinicians and dedicated herself to continued research and review of her approaches. It’s all been a snowballing “grassroots” effort without external funding, which means she hasn’t been held to anyone else’s vision but her own. And she relates all her Social Thinking work to research, which she and her team track closely.
A champion of integrity and common sense, Winner credits an unwavering “straight arrow” approach with her ability to stay focused on the core of Social Thinking—the clients.
“You’ve just got to know what you’re about,” she says. “Stay true to what you’re about.”
—Haley Blum, writer/editor
The Master Administrator
Kim Wilcox, chancellor, University of California, Riverside
As a first-generation college student, Kim Wilcox never pictured himself as a national academic leader. He wasn’t even sure of his major at first, changing it from physics to audiology and speech sciences because “you can only do so much angular momentum.”
The new major proved the right fit for his interests in science and child development, so he went on to earn master’s (1978) and doctoral (1980) degrees in speech and hearing science from Purdue University. By the late 1980s, he was at the University of Kansas Department of Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders, happily immersed in running a speech acoustics lab.
So when the position of department chair opened up, Wilcox wasn’t interested. “I didn’t think I’d enjoy it or be good at it,” he says. “But they talked me into it.” Turns out he did enjoy the position, so much so that he stayed in it 10 years—and decided he wanted to branch out into a broader leadership position, like a deanship.
To gear up for that step, Wilcox took several leadership fellowships, one at the University of Kansas and another—through the American Council on Education—with the president of Indiana University. And just after that, he found himself in the midst of a system-wide shake-up in the Kansas higher-education system. The Kansas legislature wanted big change, so they restructured the Kansas Board of Regents.
Now the board needed a leader, and Wilcox found himself in charge. The job gave him an opportunity to help streamline the state’s somewhat disjointed higher-education system, and he did so, first as the board’s interim director and then as its president and CEO.
The hardest part of that transition, he says, was realizing it was time to shutter his research lab and career. “The students always used to hang fun stuff on the walls,” he says, “and when I came home with the last box full of it, I looked at my wife and started crying because I knew I was closing down that part of my career.”
But new career chapters soon opened up, as Wilcox took on new positions at Kansas, including dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2002. Then, in 2005, came an even bigger move—provost and executive vice president of Michigan State University.
While at Michigan State, Wilcox grew grants and contracts, added faculty positions, restructured the budget and grew the university’s international presence—all achievements he’s building on in a new position as chancellor at the University of California-Riverside.

“[CSD professionals] have amazing experience for these kinds of jobs. More of us need to be out there doing this.”

Among Wilcox’s many goals at UC-Riverside is bolstering the university’s already strong research programs and student diversity. And to him, there’s just about nobody more suited to such tasks than a communication sciences and disorders professional. “We’ve got amazing experience for these kinds of jobs,” he says. “We understand people, which is important at a big university like this. We’ve run clinical and research programs. We understand physical and biological sciences, education and health. More of us need to be out there doing this.”
—Bridget Murray Law, editor-in-chief
The Hearing Preservationist
Laurie Wells, senior acoustics regulatory affairs specialist, Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Department, 3M, St. Paul, Minnesota
As an aspiring concert flautist attending the University of Iowa on a music scholarship, Laurie Wells valued the importance of hearing. But she’d never heard of an audiologist, at least not until she took a physics-of-sound class. It sparked her interest in the science of how the ear works—and changed her career path.
Wells worked as a clinical audiologist for six years before her path changed once again. Moving to a new state led to a job at the University of Northern Colorado, where one of her responsibilities was to run a mobile hearing-testing unit.
She visited noisy workplaces including slaughterhouses, manufacturing plants, breweries and mines. She honed her expertise in hearing conservation regulations and noise-induced hearing loss. “Driving the van blossomed into a real passion for hearing-loss prevention,” Wells says, “because if you don’t have to fix it, it’s better!”
A few years later, she left the relative security of her university gig to take a consulting job as a hearing-conservation expert. The tough choice worked out. She stayed nearly 15 years at Associates in Acoustics, Inc., a private firm specializing in noise control engineering, occupational audiology and hearing conservation. “Part of the difficulty in making that decision,” she says, “was consciously choosing to specialize in such a small aspect of the profession.”
Taking the leap to specialize put Wells side-by-side with the employees whose hearing she still strives to protect. She also worked with the managers who hired her to help protect their employees’ hearing. Those experiences help her understand both points of view in an ongoing debate of how best to tackle dangerous noise levels.

“There needs to be more emphasis on selecting hearing protection that works but can be worn all day long and still allows employees to perform their jobs.”

“We know the risk of auditory damage increases with too much noise,” she says, “but where do you draw the line? If employers draw it too high, it puts workers at risk; too low and it’s difficult for businesses to make products. I think there needs to be more emphasis on controlling noise through engineering and selecting effective hearing protection that can be worn all day long, but still allows employees to communicate and perform their jobs.”
Now three years into regulatory affairs work in hearing protection for 3M, Wells looks back happily on her circuitous path to get there. Everything she learned along the way informs the delicate balance she navigates in promoting enforceable hearing safety regulations around the globe and raising awareness of occupational hearing loss.
“I get to help other 3M employees whose countries may be involved in revising regulations and standards,” Wells says. “It gives me a bigger reach to help improve hearing protection. And my familiarity with barriers and frustrations from workers’—as well as employers’—perspectives gives me greater insight into those negotiations.”
—Shelley D. Hutchins, content producer/editor
The Humanity Seeker
Barry Prizant, co-founder, the SCERTS® Model; director, Childhood Communication Services, Cranston, Rhode Island; adjunct professor, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
Barry Prizant was 18 and working at a summer camp for children with “special needs” when the revelation struck him: These children weren’t unlike “typical” children.
They also had love to share, jokes to tell, energy to release, and wants and needs they sought to communicate. They just needed extra help communicating those wants and needs. As Prizant provided that help, he found himself taking on the role of a surrogate parent—and sympathizing with parents’ struggles to open others’ eyes to their children’s humanity.
That insight set him on the path to his life’s work.
Back at Binghamton University that fall, Prizant declared a major in developmental psycholinguistics, then moved on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in communicative disorders and sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
His focus was children with language disabilities, and, as he read the autism spectrum disorder literature, he noted a discrepancy. “Much of it was looking at autism through a window of deviant behavior and psychotic speech,” says Prizant. “And this was at odds with what I’d seen in these children and heard about them from their parents.”
Echolalia, for example, was considered “meaningless parroting.” But in his dissertation, Prizant found that echolalia actually served many communicative functions for kids on the spectrum.
This notion that such “aberrant” behavior could be adaptive became Prizant’s focus while directing a department at a Brown University children’s psychiatric hospital. With training from leaders in child development such as pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, “we began to look at behavior in autism by asking, ‘What is it that kids are trying to communicate to us through behavior that others have considered deviant or abnormal?’”
For example, the seemingly insolent act of throwing a toy on the floor might actually be a child’s attempt to say the toy is broken, or if a child drops to the floor, maybe the child is telling us the cafeteria feels frightening and overwhelming.

“We began to look at behavior in autism by asking, ‘What is it that kids are trying to communicate to us through behavior that others have considered deviant or abnormal?’”

Prizant’s next step was building an evidence-based intervention framework based on these notions. He banded with Emily Rubin and Amy Wetherby, both speech-language pathologists, and Amy Laurent, an occupational therapist, to create the SCERTS® Model (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support) for children with autism and related disabilities—now widely used throughout the United States and internationally. In addition to holding various academic posts and directing Childhood Communication Services, his private practice, Prizant has also published several books, most recently “Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism,” published this summer to critical acclaim.
“The idea of ‘Uniquely Human,’” he says, “is that we don’t need to change people on the autism spectrum to look ‘typical’ just because they have a different way of processing the world. When we look at people with autism through a lens of pathology, we miss the contributions they make or potentially can make, the positive effects on our lives, and the strengths they bring.”
—Bridget Murray Law, editor-in-chief
The Accidental Regulator
Dorothy A. Shannon, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (retired), Baltimore, Maryland
In her 11 years at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Dorothy Shannon played a major role in crafting Medicare’s rehabilitation payment policies. But her take on these policies was quite different from that of her fellow health insurance specialists.
With more than 30 years of experience as a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, Shannon was the first to bring the perspective of a dually certified clinician to the development of policies for physical therapists, occupational therapists, audiologists and SLPs. Medicare policies govern reimbursement for services to 44 million beneficiaries and also are adopted by many large private health insurers.
Shannon began her career in public schools. She then earned a doctorate at the University of Maryland and became chief of audiology and speech at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.
During that time she was active in the Maryland Speech-Language-Hearing Association and chaired the Board of Examiners for Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists. When Sinai closed its audiology department in 1992, Shannon became chief of the audiology and speech section at the Veterans Administration Hospital of Baltimore. She developed and ran the new program for seven years until a restructure eliminated her position.
Looking for a management position close to home, she applied to CMS in 1999. She didn’t want to leave the field—“speech and hearing was my life”—and was happy to put her skills to work on Medicare policies.
The timing was propitious. As part of the Program Integrity Group, Shannon became project director for a study on therapy service delivery, the results of which were used to develop the regulations and manual changes for the new Medicare therapy caps legislation.
That study, and others on alternative payment models, served as the models from which Shannon provided input to CMS administration on Medicare outpatient rehab policies. As the only SLP/A on the staff, she had the opportunity to draft and defend policies that were “reasonable for therapists to carry out and also clear to Medicare contractors.” She forged compromises between Medicare’s need to determine whether a service was appropriately provided and payable, and therapists’ desire to easily document their services for professional purposes.
“If you don’t have someone there who understands the clinical side of payment policies,” Shannon says, “you wind up with policies that serve the administrative needs of the program but burden the clinician without benefiting the patient.”

“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to lend clinical knowledge to the development of Medicare policies.”

Although public policy was not necessarily on Shannon’s radar when she considered career options, her work in that arena has been highly significant for Medicare providers and patients. She was named an ASHA Fellow and received the American Physical Therapy Association’s Public Service Award for her efforts. “I was fortunate,” she says, “to have the opportunity to lend clinical knowledge to the development of Medicare policies.”
—Carol Polovoy, managing editor
The Family Interventionist
Mary Pat Moeller, director, Center for Childhood Deafness, Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska
Mary Pat Moeller is the sort who sees something needs to be done—then goes in and does it. Because why wouldn’t she?
That’s what she did in 1982, eight years after earning her audiology/aural rehabilitation master’s from Purdue University. She saw a need in the Omaha Public Schools (OPS): Families of children who were deaf or hard of hearing often struggled to figure out the best language support options. So she collaborated with OPS speech-language pathologists Kathy Coufal and Peter Hixson to launch an early-intervention program that supported families in informed decision-making.
And that’s what Moeller did in the 1990s while working at Boys Town National Research Hospital. Treating clients and assisting in aural rehabilitation research labs, she saw a need for answers to research questions such as, “Do children who wear hearing aids at earlier ages have better language outcomes?”
“At Boys Town we saw kids from across the nation, often with complex needs, and I was working in the labs of strong female researchers—role models who motivated me,” says Moeller. “I had all these interesting questions forming in my mind but I lacked the research tools to address them and also saw our field needed evidence to support practice.”
So what did Moeller do? At 45 and with two boys in college, she starting working on her PhD in psychological studies: child language/deafness at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For the better part of seven years, she commuted to Lincoln from Omaha, where she still worked at Boys Town part time.
“It was challenging, sure,” says Moeller. “But my love of learning and breadth of clinical experience really helped. I was intimidated by statistics at first, but ended up minoring in it.”
Shortly after completing her doctorate in 2002, Boys Town had her applying for, and landing, health communication grants from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Among the products of these grants were language-development tools for preschoolers; resources for pediatricians; and the website, focused on newborn hearing screening and follow-up.
For Moeller, family-centered intervention has always been a passion, perhaps tied to her own experience with a mother who was—and a nephew who is—deaf. In fact, Moeller’s family-intervention expertise has brought her international renown: Three years ago, she led an international consensus conference on the topic in Bad Ischl, Austria. Out of it came best-practice guidelines for intervening with children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Moeller has also been principal or co-investigator on many NIDCD and NIH grants. And guess what question one of them is investigating? Yes, it involves language outcomes for young wearers of hearing aids. It’s a multiyear, multicenter (University of Iowa, Boys Town and University of North Carolina) study, which Moeller co-directs with Bruce Tomblin. The grant was renewed for another five years to follow the children into their school years.

“The thing we keep finding is that when the families promote early communication access, the kids do well.”

“This is exactly the sort of research that needs to be done to optimize the potential of young children who are deaf or hard or hearing,” says Moeller. “And the thing we keep finding is that when the families promote early communication access, the kids do well.”
—Bridget Murray Law, editor-in-chief
The Prevention Evangelist
Col. Vickie Tuten, associate director (retired), Prevention and Surveillance Directorate, Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence
When Vickie Tuten tells you that she’s never considered herself a natural leader, you get the feeling that this type of self-awareness may have a lot to do with why she has excelled as a leader throughout her career.
The truth is the military audiologist actively sought out managerial roles over the years, ultimately becoming associate director of the Prevention and Surveillance Directorate at the Department of Defense’s Hearing Center of Excellence, a post from which she recently retired. She has always seen management roles as challenges.
“I love patient care, don’t get me wrong,” she says. “But I like program management. I liked the challenge of [hearing loss] prevention. … And believe me, the personnel challenges—there’s nothing that prepares you for that.”
Over the years, Tuten says she’s learned things that make a good leader—ownership of mistakes, willingness to mentor, vulnerability, and a staff that complements the leader’s strengths and weaknesses.
These qualities, along with honest communication, have informed Tuten’s military service, which she began at the tail end of the Vietnam War as an administrative specialist before she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees (she’d later complete her AuD while working). With the exception of a few years of civilian and Army Reserve work in audiology, Tuten has served in audiology program-chief roles on active duty, most notably at Fort Hood in Texas, the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, overseeing everything from prevention programs to treatment of active-duty service members.
She also worked in the Office of the Surgeon General as its audiology consultant and a staff officer in its Proponency Office for Preventive Medicine, where Tuten stayed for a few years—also chairing the DoD’s Hearing Conservation and Readiness Working Group, which advises the deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment on policy related to hearing conservation and readiness issues—before moving back to San Antonio as program director at the Medical Education and Training Campus.
“The one thing that makes a great audiologist is not how good you are at pushing buttons and moving through a test … but how well you connect with your patients and develop their trust,” she says. “That’s also a trait that can translate into leadership—people aren’t going to follow you if they don’t trust you.”
—Haley Blum, writer/editor
The Research Cultivator
Judith A. Cooper, deputy director and director of the Division of Scientific Programs, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
After six years working with children as a clinical speech-language pathologist, Judith Cooper decided she wanted to do something that reached a broader community. So she went back to school and discovered her passion for research.
Cooper earned her doctorate in speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington, and then worked as a health science administrator in the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke. In 1988—a few years after landing that job—Cooper became a founding member of the new National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
Now she’s deputy director of NIDCD, influencing many aspects of communication sciences and disorders research. “Sometimes I come across an area where research is limited, like children with autism who are minimally verbal,” she says. “I was able to organize projects related to this topic. That’s part of the broader reach I enjoy in my role.”
Cooper’s work encouraging investigators, overseeing research progress and publicizing researchers’ projects allows her to collaborate with audiologists and SLPs in various stages of their careers. The projects she nurtures contribute to the knowledge base on challenging issues such as Parkinson’s, autism, congenital deafness, aphasia and others. These projects also give her insight into the field’s new frontiers.
“Success in the clinic should be founded and grounded in research,” Cooper says. “This is my philosophy.” By sharing cutting-edge research in responding to media inquiries and to Congress, and by helping lay organizations inform members, she spreads understanding.
“My background gives me great respect for my colleagues doing the daily work, as well as a closer tie to those we’re all serving,” Cooper says. “I work with them to facilitate research and move the field ahead, ultimately addressing: How do we improve the lives of individuals with communication disorders?”
Mentoring researchers to help answer that question is another aspect of her work Cooper appreciates. “Our growth as leaders also comes in taking responsibility for making sure our profession will have a next generation,” she says. “And there are many ways to do that through the research lab, clinic, classroom or hospital.”
—Shelley D. Hutchins, content producer/editor
The Good Politician
Hanna M. Gallo, state senator and public school SLP, Cranston, Rhode Island
Do you ever talk about politicians with disdain? Then Hanna Gallo wants to educate you about what it really means to be a politician—or what it should mean, anyway.
“A lot of people say they’re not political,” she says, “but there’s no such thing. You need to get things done, so if that means getting involved to make things better for your daughters, then why is doing it as a politician dirty work?”
Gallo started getting involved when one of her daughters was born with a hearing impairment. Instead of whining about it, Gallo researched what she could do to help her child. Did she stop there? Not even close. She went back to school to become a speech-language pathologist.
Right after getting her certification in 1997, Gallo became a school-based SLP. While going back to school, Gallo also set up after-school enrichment programs at her daughters’ elementary school and took part in a community group taking action against a large corporation polluting their air.
“We experienced a really high rate of cancer in our small community, but they weren’t counting people unless they died so it didn’t look as bad,” she says. “We eventually got them to stop emitting such dangerous toxins.”
While giving her all to these projects—becoming an SLP, starting after-school programs, fighting big business—Gallo also ran a successful Senate campaign.
She started her second job in January 1998.
Gallo still works full time as a school-based SLP. And as a state senator, she chairs the education committee, serves on the commerce committee, and served on both the Board of Regents and Commission on Civic Education. Oh, yes, and Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea recently presented Gallo with an award for civic engagement. Now how do you feel about politicians?
These seemingly unrelated roles do work in harmony, however. Gallo’s expertise as an SLP informs her input on education legislation. “One bill was put forth that schools should identify dyslexia, for example,” she says. “But that was all it said! It didn’t address treating it or teaching those children to read. Knowing the ins and outs of the impact legislation will have on a school or community is a great help to being in the Senate.”
She encourages other SLPs to follow in her footsteps (maybe get running shoes first): “SLPs as a whole are strong individuals, and I believe that a strong independent mindset is a key component of a good leader.”
—Shelley D. Hutchins, content producer/editor
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November 2015
Volume 20, Issue 11