News

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 http://news.psu.edu/story/391173/2016/02/05/research/project-aims-improve-learning-young-people-down-syndrome.

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!

Student passes candidacy exam

Congratulations to Christine Holyfield who successfully passed her candidacy exam. She completed a project titled “Augmentative and alternative communication interventions for middle school-, high school-, and adult-aged individuals with ASD: a systematic review”. Her candidacy committee all agree that she did a tremendous job with a challenging topic.

Student receives funding

Congratulations to Michelle Therrien who was been awarded an American Speech Language Hearing Foundation 2015 Student Research Grant in Early Childhood Language Development for her doctoral dissertation project. The project will investigate the effects of intervention to enhance interactions between young children with complex communication needs and their typical peers. These ASH Foundation grants are highly competitive and this award is a real tribute to the significance of Michelle's research and the high quality of her methodology.

Student passes comprehensive exam

Congratulations to Michelle Therrien who passed her comprehensive exam. She conceptualized and implemented an intervention study to enhance peer interactions that involve preschoolers with complex communication needs who require AAC. This research addresses a critical issue in the field—one that has largely been neglected to date. Her study will definitely make an important contribution to advancing our knowledge and improving outcomes for young children with complex communication needs.

Faculty member receives award

Congratulations to Sommar Chilton, who has been selected to receive the 2015 Health and Human Development Alumni Society Excellence in Teaching Award. Ms. Chilton teaches classes in American Sign Language, Deaf Culture, and Aural Rehabilitation and advises the Penn State Sign Language Organization.

Faculty member receives funding

Congratulations to Chaleece Sandberg who has received funding through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Grant Program for Projects on Multicultural Activities 2015. The project, which she will be doing in collaboration with colleagues at Boston University and San Francisco State University is titled “Development of a free online interactive naming therapy for bilingual aphasia.”

Program wins endowment funding

Congratulations to Anne Marie “Kitty” Kubat who has been awarded funding for her work in the Brainbuilders program. The Thomas M. Nardozzo Community Service Endowment chose her application as a program to help faculty with “the development and delivery of community outreach programs which promote human health and well-being.” Television station WTAJ did a feature on Brainbuilders and the video is available on their website: http://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/help-for-dementia-patients-and-families

Department News from Penn State News

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.


When Bob Hillman came to Penn State on an athletic scholarship for the men’s cross-country and track and field teams, he began studying English and journalism with plans to become a high school teacher. Little did Hillman know that instead he would one day help preserve voices known around the world, from actress and singer Julie Andrews to vocalist Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.


A doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders has found that social media is just as important as face-to-face communication for those with disabilities.


Nimisha Muttiah, who earned a doctoral degree in communication sciences and disorders at Penn State in May, has made it her mission to aid children with autism spectrum disorders in Sri Lanka.


Middle school students from Washington, D.C. were able to see firsthand how the technology that powers their favorite video games is the same technology that helps golfers improve their swing.