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Communication sciences and disorders department to receive Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award

| Juliana Poquette

Faculty and staff in UW-Eau Claire’s communication sciences and disorders department go above and beyond to provide meaningful learning experiences that have lasting impact.

Need proof? This week, the department's collaborative teaching approach, as well as their ongoing research and implementation of innovative paths to learning both in and outside the classroom, have earned them a 2019 UW System Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award.

Need more proof? Just ask the department’s students and alumni. Kate French, an alum who now works as a speech-language pathologist in a west-central Wisconsin school district, sums up succinctly the impact of her CSD education at UW-Eau Claire:

“This department has taught me that as an emerging speech-language pathologist, I am doing more than just restoring an individual’s ability to communicate,” French wrote in a letter supporting the CSD department’s nomination for the award. “I’m empowering others to confidently live life to the fullest. This department has kindled my passion for serving others, and for that I am forever grateful.”

CSD department chair Dr. Vicki Samelson will accept the award April 5 during the Board of Regents meeting at UW-Madison. Each year, the regents present three $5,000 awards recognizing excellence in teaching at UW System institutions. Two awards go to individual faculty or instructional academic staff and one goes to an academic unit.

This is the second consecutive year that a UW-Eau Claire recipient has been selected for a Regents Teaching Excellence Award. In 2018, Dr. Martina Lindseth, professor of German in the university’s department of languages, received the award.

“UW-Eau Claire’s communication sciences and disorders department is truly deserving of this honor,” said Dr. Patricia A. Kleine, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Excellence is at the heart of the work of this department, where all who serve in teaching roles maintain high standards through initiatives like their reciprocal mentoring program, providing an excellent model for our how our graduates can support one another in future clinical settings.”

Learning from each other

Samelson said her department is honored to receive the prestigious Board of Regents award, and she shared insight into the philosophy that drives the department’s teaching excellence.

“The power of teaching and learning arises from the collective mindset of our students, faculty, and each client, parent, and communication partner that we serve in our clinics,” Samelson said. “Every individual will sometimes be a teacher and at other times be a learner. We model and share knowledge with each other, and more importantly, we learn from each other. This pedagogy is integrated and infused in our classrooms, our clinic, our community outreach initiatives, and our student-faculty collaborative research projects.”

The CSD department’s holistic approach to teaching and learning is multifaceted. Through its reciprocal mentorship program, newer faculty and staff are mentored by senior colleagues and vice versa. Active learning is a key component as well. Beginning at the undergraduate level, CSD students are given outside-the-classroom experiences with the populations they will eventually serve as licensed professionals. Those experiences are integrated into the curriculum for all students and offered in the department’s on-site speech and language clinic, at a camp for aphasia patients and their caregivers, and during a weeklong pre-college program for students with Asperger’s syndrome — all of which also serve important community and regional needs.

Alumni perspectives

French, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication sciences and disorders through UW-Eau Claire’s programs in 2016 and 2018, gave perspective on the importance of the active-learning experiences she received.

“This is an integral and essential part of any graduate program in CSD, but seldom is it seen and successfully developed at the undergraduate level,” French wrote. “I can attest that my exposure to supervised, clinical practice as an undergraduate student prepared me to be a confident graduate student clinician, a confident speech language pathologist clinical fellow, and a confident professional clinician in a school setting.”

Laura Imming, who completed her master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders in May 2018 through UW-Eau Claire’s online graduate program, entered the program as a nontraditional student seeking a second career.

“From day one, I was met with an outpouring of support and encouragement unrivaled by any other program I’ve attended,” Imming wrote in a letter recommending the CSD department for the regents’ award. “It is apparent that the CSD department is sensitive to different learning styles and knows how to disseminate their curriculum across multiple modalities and technologies to enhance student learning experiences.”

Innovative leaders in the discipline

Also contributing to the department’s recipe for success in teaching and learning are its very own Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Lab, as well as an Instructional Internship Program. In the SoTL lab, students collaborate with faculty mentors designing and researching effective teaching strategies. The Instructional Internship Program helps the department address the shortage of faculty in the communication sciences and disorders field by mentoring students who serve as instructional interns — and who potentially will become the next generation of college faculty in the discipline.

The CSD department also hosts daylong professional seminars that are open to students, faculty and staff, and community members and feature prominent speech-language pathology clinicians and researchers. In addition to these development opportunities for its own campus and community, the department leads innovation across the UW System through the creation of a systemwide Think Tank to discuss curriculum and best practices within the communication sciences and disorders discipline.

Aspen Doud, who earned her communication sciences and disorders bachelor’s degree in 2017 and will complete her CSD master’s degree at UW-Eau Claire this spring, said it's apparent that CSD faculty and staff always have students’ success in mind.

“It is evident that through every aspect of the CSD department that the top priority of every faculty member is students and our learning,” Doud wrote in an award recommendation letter. “The program is constantly reflecting on itself to improve and develop with the research in the field.”

Dr. Carmen Manning, dean of UW-Eau Claire's College of Education and Human Sciences, said excellence in teaching is the hallmark of the CSD department. 

"They are a model for how to build a rigorous academic program grounded in research, collaboration and teaching excellence that not only prepares graduates for their future careers, but serves the needs of the community," Manning said. "I am proud of the work they do on a daily basis, and I am so pleased that they are being recognized by the Board of Regents."

Top photo caption: UW-Eau Claire's communication sciences and disorders department team includes (seated, left to right) Shannon Collins, clinical associate professor; Kay Hagedorn, clinical associate professor; Dr. Kathryn Mueller, assistant professor; Rebecca Jarzynski, clinical instructor; Dr. Abby Hemmerich, associate professor; and (standing, left to right) Cecily Weber, university services program associate; Melissa Wallace, academic department associate; Angela Sterling-Orth, clinical associate professor; Dr. Bryan Brown, assistant professor; Nicole Smith, clinical associate professor; Dr. Jerry Hoepner, associate professor; Dr. Thomas Kovacs, assistant professor, Dr. Vicki Samelson, associate professor and department chair; and Dr. Tom Sather, assistant professor.