Candidate earns doctorate

Congratulations to Michelle Therrien who passed her final doctoral dissertation defense. During her time at Penn State, she was recognized with a highly competitive graduate school fellowship, awarded to the top 6% of incoming graduate students. She also received 1 of only 3 ASH Foundation Student Research Grants ( in Early Childhood Language Development. She was actively involved in a wide range of research during her time at Penn State culminating in more than 12 peer reviewed publications or conference presentations. Most recently she presented her research at the biennial conference of the International Society on Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Her dissertation focused on intervention to enhance peer interactions for children with complex communication needs, specifically children with autism spectrum disorders. Peer interactions are so central to the lives of children and yet they are too frequently neglected in research and practice. Her dissertation will make such a valuable contribution to the field. Dr. Therrien has accepted a position of Assistant Professor at Florida State University.

Candidate passes candidacy defense

Congratulations to Kelsey Mandak who passed her candidacy defense. She designed and implemented a study to investigate the perspectives of speech language pathologists on family-centered services. Her study highlighted the gap between what should be happening and what is happening currently in the field.

Student wins award

Congratulations to Jiali Liang, doctoral student in Communication Sciences and Disorders, who has received one of eight Student Scholar Awards for the11th Annual Eleanor M. Saffran Conference to be held at Temple University in September. Dr. Eleanor Saffran will be remembered as one of the great pioneers in cognitive neuroscience who has made groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of language and cognitive disorders following brain damage. Her research established the foundation of our current understanding of and approaches to rehabilitation of aphasia. Dr. Saffran is especially remembered for her contributions to research on agrammatism, deep dyslexia, word deafness, short-term memory deficits, word production, sentence processing, semantics, and visual cognition. Her legacy of research will continue to inspire researchers in all areas of cognitive neuroscience and rehabilitation science. These awards are distributed through a competitive process.

Student paper wins award

Congratulations to Jennifer Thistle, Communication Sciences and Disorders Ph.D. graduate, and Krista Wilkinson, professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, who received the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Editor's Award for the best student paper at the biennial conference of the International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication for their paper: Thistle, J. & Wilkinson, K. (2015). Building evidence-based practice in AAC display design for young children: Current practices and future directions. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31, 124–136. This paper represents the culmination of such important work that has significant implications for the field. It will impact practice in the field and the lives of many children with complex communication needs.

Poster wins award

Congratulations to Jiali Liang, Communication Sciences and Disorders Ph.D. candidate and Krista Wilkinson, Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Their 2016 ASHA Convention Poster presentation titled, "Meta-Analyses of Gaze Toward Humans in Photographs by Individuals With Autism: Implications for AAC Design", has been designated as a Meritorious Poster Submission. The Meritorious Poster Submission recognition is for proposals judged by the Convention Program Committee to show extraordinary, exceptional, and innovative work.

Faculty member receives award

Congratulations to Dr. Carol Miller, professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, who has been selected to receive the 2016 Evelyn R. Saubel Faculty Award from the College of Health and Human Development. The Evelyn R. Saubel Faculty Award honors a faculty member committed to human service who is an accessible advisor in both academic and career decisions, who demonstrates a caring, professional style and who symbolizes HHD values.

Students accepted in initiative

Congratulations to Sierra Hobbs and Marissa Zollner, undergraduate majors in Communication Sciences and Disorders, who have been accepted in the Women's Leadership Initiative for 2016–17. Selection for the WLI is competitive, and students are selected for such qualities as their commitment to leadership development, willingness to engage in deep reflection about themselves and others, and openness to change.

Faculty member selected for program

Congratulations to Dr. Nicole Etter, assistant professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, who has been selected to participate in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s 2016 Pathways program. Her mentor is Dr. Steven Barlow of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Pathways program is designed to help early-career clinical scientists develop strong foundations for independent research careers. Participants receive mentoring in developing a 5-year research career plan, acculturating to a research career, building a publication record, and learning about funding mechanisms.

Faculty member receives funding

Congratulation to Krista Wilkinson who has received funding through the National Institutes of Health and Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute. The project is titled “Eye Tracking Technologies to Characterize and Optimize Visual Attending in Down Syndrome.” The grant goes from 2016–2020 and amounts to more than $1.4 million dollars in research support. For more information, please see

Student receives award

Congratulations to Alaina Eck, undergraduate major in Communication Sciences and Disorders, who was selected to receive one of the Alumni Recognition for Student Excellence Awards. The awards are presented annually to a senior in each academic unit of the College of Health and Human Development.

Student completes candidacy project

Congratulations to Jiali Liang on successfully completed her candidacy project, entitled Gaze Toward Naturalistic Social Scenes by Individuals with Autism: A Meta-Analysis and Narrative Review. Jiali conducted a systematic review of existing literature on visual attention by individuals with autism, which is characterized by contradictory findings about whether or not such individuals show atypical patterns of gaze to people depicted in photographs. She considered some of the methodological reasons that may contribute to this pattern of findings, and outlined several recommendations for researchers as they move forward in this area. Jiali did an excellent job with the project and discussing it in the committee meeting!

Student organization wins award

The Penn State Sign Language Organization is the November Student Organization of the Month (sponsored by Union and Student Activities). The purpose of Sign Language Organization at Penn State is to teach sign language in an informal environment to anyone interested and to promote awareness of the Deaf Culture to the community. In addition to weekly meetings, we also participate in and host community outreach events. On November 1st we held our “Spooky Signing” event at Schlow Library, where we teach children signs that correspond with the season or theme, sign a story with them, play games, and make a fun craft! Our organization also has a partnership with a local charter school where we run a Sign Language Club as part of their after school program a couple days of the week, teaching the students sign language. Both of these outreach programs are very rewarding, fun and successful! We are honored to have won Student Organization of the Month and are excited to continue growing and learning!

Department News from Penn State News

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation has selected Penn State to host Pennsylvania’s first Deaf and Hard of Hearing Summer Academy, which prepares high school students for their transition to higher education.

Jennifer Thistle, as a doctoral student at Penn State, and Krista Wilkinson, professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State, studied the ways speech-language pathologists (SLPs) design visual displays for children whose speech does not adequately meet their communication needs.

The College of Health and Human Development recently honored a number of faculty members with the Teaching Excellence Award in recognition of their outstanding instruction and dedication to undergraduate education.

Communication Sciences and Disorders students routinely have the opportunity to conduct research, giving them an advantage for their future careers in speech-language pathology or audiology. Being able to conduct this research abroad only elevates that experience.

Diane Williams has been named head of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the College of Health and Human Development.

Assistive technologies for people with communication disorders have come a long way in recent years. Apps on tablets, like iPads, help people with speech barriers to communicate their thoughts. Still, current technology is limited in that it does not allow users to clearly convey tone of voice, mood or individual personality. Fortunately, undergraduate engineering students at Penn State and in South Africa are working to eliminate that communication barrier and will unveil the results of their efforts at the Learning Factory College of Engineering Design Showcase April 28 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Speech-language pathologists and students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State facilitate multiple support groups for the community at-large.

Michelle Therrien, doctoral student at Penn State is working with 3- to 5-year-olds diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, who also have trouble communicating through the spoken word, as part of a study that she hopes will improve children’s ability to make friends with peers who do not have communicative disabilities.

The majority of U.S. military spouses say the needs for their children with autism are unmet, according to a Penn State study.

A new Penn State study is looking to improve communications aids to better meet the academic and social needs of children with Down Syndrome.