COE, SPHHS faculty share $799k grant for training speech-language pathologists

Faculty in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and the College of Education have been awarded a four-year, $796,809 Personnel Preparation Grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support speech-language pathology doctoral students focusing on special education.

Participating faculty

Participating faculty are (clockwise from top left) are Patricia Mercaitis, Mary Lynn Boscardin, Elena Zaretsky, Mary Andrianopoulos and Shelley Velleman.

The participating faculty are Mary Andrianopoulos, Elena Zaretsky, Shelley Velleman and Patricia Mercaitis in the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and Mary Lynn Boscardin of the Special Education concentration in the College of Education.

According to Andrianopoulos, the grant will help address a critical shortage of speech-language pathology Ph.D.s nationally and support the development of the next generation of research scientists and faculty. The grant will support between five and seven Speech-Language Pathology doctoral students planning to major in topics related to SLP with a minor in Special Education between 2009-13, she said. The doctoral students will conduct empirically-based research to assess the effectiveness of various remedial approaches to manage and educate individuals with communicative disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders.

It is the second such grant given to the group by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) in two years. Last year, they received a four-year, $799,602 award. According to Andrianopoulos, the faculty members have been awarded more than $2.3 million by the federal agency over the past five years. “These faculty were funded thanks to their significant contributions to the professions and empirical research,” she said.

Two previously awarded autism personnel preparation grants from DOE are supporting 48 master’s students in Speech-Language Pathology between 2005 and 2013.

“Both grants allow the SLP concentration in Communication Disorders to attract and recruit higher-caliber students to the department, and also to enhance its national reputation,” Andrianopoulos said. “In 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked the Speech-Language Pathology program in the Department of Communication Disorders in the top 30 graduate programs in the country. Moreover, the Special Education concentration at UMass Amherst was ranked in the top 50 programs nationally.”

The autism training grants also provide strong support for the Communication Disorders Department’s service mission, she said, by increasing and improving clinical services for people with autism in the Center for Language, Speech and Hearing. The center is an on-campus graduate teaching clinic that provides assessment and treatment services for residents of the Pioneer Valley and New England. SLP faculty and grant-related supervisors also send their practicum students to carry out graduate internships in local area schools, early intervention programs and other acute care and rehabilitation agencies. “They also contribute to community awareness and support for families with children with autism spectrum disorders,” said Andrianopoulos.

In addition, she said, the autism training grants enhance and support the research focus within the Department of Communication Disorders with respect to neurodevelopmental communication and motor speech disorders as well as literacy development in children with autism spectrum disorders. Graduate students supported by the grant carry out cutting-edge research projects and as members of the autism community, including school systems, learn about their work and volunteer to assist in the research endeavors of the five faculty members.

The team of faculty also networks and collaborates with other autism specialists in the Pioneer Valley and across the state, as well as in other countries, including Greece, Morocco, India and South Africa, said Andrianopoulos.