Seven SECD faculty recognized for service awards

Seven SECD faculty recognized for service awards

26 Sep 2017    By Kelcey Buck

Seven faculty members from the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders were among the 916 faculty and staff who received honors for years of service to the university. The annual awards are presented for employment in five-year intervals. 

25 Years
Cynthia Cress, Alan T. Seagren Associate Professor of Education

20 Years
Alicia Davis, lecturer & clinical supervisor

10 Years
Kelly Pritchett, associate professor of practice & audiology clinic coordinator
Stacie Ray, associate professor of practice

5 Years
Michael Hebert, assistant professor
Tim Jones, professor (also previously had 11 years of service in the UNMC College of Dentistry)
Sarath Vijayakumar, research assistant professor

What is your favorite memory from your time in SECD?

Hebert: My favorite memory is when I received my Early Career and Mentoring Award from the Institute of Education Sciences. The project has given me the opportunity to work closely with my mentor (Ron Nelson) and graduate students to develop a writing intervention for children with learning disabilities. It has been one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences I could have asked for in the first five years of my career.

Jones: Total eclipse.

Vijayakumar: If I must pick my favorite memory, it would be when I received a personal thank you note and a gift card from one of the students who had worked in my lab. It brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. It made me feel that I had accomplished something.

What are the biggest changes you've seen since you started at Nebraska?

Cress: It's hard to believe that 25 years have already passed in my time at Nebraska because the time has flown by. I'm pleased to realize that our former students are coming back as experienced colleagues in the field, and astonished the faculty and staff in our department seem so young, particularly since I haven't grown any older myself. Fortunately working with infants and toddlers has a way of keeping me thinking young and not really a "mean old lady" like I call myself to my students.

Davis: The expansion of the SLP program has been one of the biggest and most impressive changes. Students have so many opportunities for learning and preparation for practice once they complete their graduate program . . . and I love catching up with them once they leave us and become practicing professionals. We have some incredible individuals serving those with communication challenges in Nebraska and beyond.

Jones: Seems warmer than 1982-83.

Pritchett: The biggest change I've seen in my 10 years at Nebraska is the growth of our audiology program, including faculty, students and patients. When I started here in 2007, we essentially had three providers seeing the majority of our patients in the clinic. Today, we have seven individuals providing both hearing and balance services to patients. This has also allowed for us to increase our doctoral program class sizes from an average of six students up to 10 students per class. This growth has given our program the opportunity to increase the impact we have at the university, local, state, national and international levels, and that is exciting for all of us involved!

Ray: When I arrived as a temporary employee in 2004, we were a small department. The audiology program was just in the process of transitioning from a master's to a doctorate degree. We had one room that we all shared to see hearing aid patients. There were only two professors teaching the majority of the courses and our outreach was limited. Opening our new clinic space in 2010 was probably the biggest change. It provided us with the space needed to grow clinically, and provided a great opportunity to recruit students.

Vijakayumar: As a technology nerd, the biggest change for me would be the deployment of gigabit internet in Lincoln. In one of the department holiday parties, I remember telling Dr. Carrell that I had thought of living in Kansas City and daily commuting to Lincoln because at that time Google fiber was available only in Kansas City. Well . . . I didn't quite do that and now I don't even have to think about it!

What has motivated you to stay at Nebraska as long as you have?

Cress: I have always wanted to stay here at Nebraska and in this department in particular because I believe in what we're doing and value the colleagues and students that share the vision here. We strike what I consider to be the perfect balance between cutting-edge scientific inquiry and practical real-life application of that knowledge for persons with special needs. As faculty, we practice what we teach and understand the implications of what we research for educational and therapeutic applications. Our students understand why they are making therapeutic decisions on behalf of the individuals they serve and how to adapt that therapy to meet the needs of families, schools and communities, as well as the individuals served. We are a friendly and supportive group that values the unique contributions of faculty, staff and students, and works together to improve ourselves professionally and personally. We enjoy what we do, and can share that joy with others involved in the activities of our department and college. We strive to make a difference and believe that we have done so and will continue to do so in meeting the challenges we face together.

Davis: When I arrived at the Barkley Center 20 years ago, I intended to stay for a year . . . friends, family and colleagues in Colorado considered this my "outback tour of duty" . . . but the energy and enthusiasm of the students has kept me here! There is always something new to challenge me or interesting to discover. I now tell anyone who asks that I am staying for a year, but I haven't decided which year I am going to choose!

Jones: The Good Life.

Ray: I love the community and feel blessed to be associated with such amazing talent within our department, college and university. I've been provided the opportunity to collaborate with outside entities who share the same interest and passion of improving access to quality hearing health care. I thoroughly enjoy working with students and witnessing their growth as individuals and professionals.

What are your plans/goals for your next five years?

Cress: Part of the reason the years have flown by for me is that I keep looking ahead at all the things I plan to do, not just what I've done. I've been working for 10 years or more on developing a new assessment and a screener for infant communication in children under 12 months of age, and that's starting to approach dissemination as a product in the next few years. My next series of grants and research development is focusing on adapting those measures for children where we know they have concerns, either during infancy or at any age where individuals are relying on very simple forms of communication. That brings me back full circle to my early career focus on addressing the needs of children and adults with complex communication needs who may not be able to advocate for their own communication and rely on partner support for social interaction and other messages. I'm developing these tools as a way to track what these basic communicators can do rather than just what they can't, and as a way to track progress in communication intervention. I am collaborating with sites around the country and internationally to test and implement these tools, and demonstrate successful strategies for improving basic communication at any age. I'll also be developing clinical manuals for implementing the kinds of interventions we've developed for these populations when I'm a little older, but since I haven't aged yet at this point my my career, that may still wait longer than the next five years.

Hebert: My goals for the next five years include: further developing writing interventions for students with disabilities, graduating my first two doctoral students, publishing an edited book, obtaining two external federal grants to support my work, and building a national reputation for our graduate program in special education by continuing to recruit and train top-notch graduate students.

Jones: Sailing in San Diego Bay.

Pritchett: One of my goals for the next five years is to win the lottery and build a brand new Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic! But, if I am being realistic, my plans are to increase the number of faculty we have for our audiology program. This would allow for additional growth in several areas, including seeing more patients in our clinic, expanding the audiological services we currently offer to include cochlear implants, and increasing our class sizes to an average of 12 students per class. We've already come so far in the last 10 years, I know we have the capabilities to meet, if not exceed, those goals!

Vijayakumar: Sometime in the next five years, I envision myself being a PI and running my own lab with multi-million dollar funding. At least, that is my wishful thinking.

Special Education and Communication Disorders