Professor Karen Hux retires from SECD after 27 years

Karen Hux

Professor Karen Hux retires from SECD after 27 years

09 Jan 2018    By Kelcey Buck

As Karen Hux was finishing up her doctoral program, she saw a job announcement for a faculty position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that specifically mentioned traumatic brain injury, neurology and aphasia. She knew she had to apply since those were her areas of interest, but she had no intention of ever living in Lincoln, Nebraska. That was 1989. Last month, Hux retired from the university after 27 years in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders. 

The job at Nebraska was Hux’s first interview. After two days of visiting with SECD faculty, she knew she would take the job, if offered. She interviewed for a couple other positions while waiting to hear from Nebraska. 

“Those interviews were nothing compared to this one,” Hux said. “Once I got this offer, I canceled all other interviews because I wasn’t going to play this game of interviewing at places when I knew I wasn’t going to take those jobs.”

It wasn’t the first time in her life Hux had changed her plans. As an undergraduate majoring in music therapy, Hux worked at a summer camp for students with developmental disabilities, ranging in age from young children to young adults. Several of the camp counselors were speech-language pathology graduate students. That was her first exposure to the field of speech-language pathology, and it got her thinking that it might be a good fit for her own career pursuits. 

“I thought, ‘You know, this would be a really good combination.’ Music therapy was OK, but it wasn’t scientific enough for me.” 

So, as she returned to Michigan State University for what would have been her senior year, Hux headed to the speech department and met with the department chair. It was a meeting that would drastically change the path of her life.

“He was just a delightful man, who happened to also be a musician. He said, ‘This is a great idea! You’re going to do it, and this is the way you’re going to do it.’” 

Making it work meant Hux would complete all of the speech-language pathology courses in a two-year span, and would graduate with bachelor’s degrees in both music therapy and audiology and speech science. 

“I took all of these classes simultaneously. In fact, some of the classes even met at the same time and I would alternate between going to one class or the other class. It was incredible. I don’t know how he knew I would be able to handle that, but he did.” 

She then went to Kansas for a six-month music therapy externship that finished in December. After that was completed, Hux returned to Michigan State and began her master’s in speech-language pathology the next month. 

“By the time I had finished the master’s degree, I knew there was no question speech path fit me better than music therapy did.” 

Through her master’s program, Hux worked with a variety of clients. She enjoyed them all, so she took a job in acute rehab where she knew she would get the most variety in clientele. In the midst of Hux’s three years there, the facility started a more specialized brain injury program. By the time she left, all of her clients were traumatic brain injury survivors, mostly adolescents. 

Hux departed the job at the rehab facility to begin her doctoral program at Northwestern University. But the experience she had gained in working with TBI patients served as the foundation for what became her career focus. That focus, in turn, led her to apply for a job at Nebraska. 

In describing what won her over during her interview at Nebraska, Hux is quick to discuss the time she spent with David Beukelman, the Edna Barkley professor emeritus for SECD.

“Dave was very much wanting to do AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) with brain injury and AAC with aphasia, and those were new areas,” Hux said. “AAC hadn’t dipped into those areas yet. He needed a collaborator in that area, so I spent a lot of time with him. That was a positive part of the interview because he was very engaging and encouraging about the kinds of things that he wanted to do.”

Beukelman’s mentorship continued after Hux arrived at SECD as an assistant professor in 1990. The two began doing research together, and Hux learned early in her career how to put together a program of research, doing one project that leads to another that leads to another. 

“Teaching was easy for me. But really understanding how to put a research program together was what I learned when I came here in those first few years. If I wouldn’t have had the kind of support I got from colleagues here, I don’t think I would have gone nearly as far as I did in my career.” 

Hux also leaned on a group of fellow pre-tenure faculty who created what they dubbed the Research Accountability Group, or RAG. The group met about once a week for an hour for each person to provide updates on what they had accomplished with their research the week prior. 

“It was tremendously supportive. It was just a really good group to be able to say, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ Or ‘Who do I go ask about this?’ and ‘Does this make sense?’ It was great just to throw ideas off each other.”

Another important aspect of Hux’s career journey happened in her first year at Nebraska – she met the CEO of Quality Living, Inc., a specialized healthcare provider that serves the needs of individuals with brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, or other severe physical disability. That introduction opened a door for Hux to have research participants readily available early in her career. Now, after completing her 27-year career at Nebraska, Hux moved on to become QLI’s Director of Research. In that role, she will continue conducting her own research, while also coordinating requests from outside researchers.

In reflecting on her career at Nebraska, Hux is appreciative of how comfortable and happy she was at the university from her first day and throughout her career. She credits that in large part to the people, and, in particular, the students. 

“The master’s students are great. They are smart, they’re energetic, they’re engaged, they’re eager to learn. So, working with them is a delight. And the Ph.D. students – again, they’re just so talented. They’re sponges, just ready to soak up all of this information. It’s been very gratifying, but also very intellectually stimulating to be able to bounce ideas off of people. That’s what I have cherished the most.”

Special Education and Communication Disorders