Syracuse University Magazine

New Facility Enhances Faculty Work and Gebbie Clinic's Reach


It’s an otherwise lazy summer day in Central New York, but inside the building at 621 Skytop Road, on South Campus, the mood is festive. Professor Linda Milosky, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) in the College of Arts and Sciences, darts from room to room, amid a maze of moving boxes and unassembled computers. “Want to see something?” she asks. With the flick of a light switch, she steps inside a hushed conference room containing a table, chairs, and a wall-mounted TV. “This is where our aphasia group meets,” she says, alluding to the neurological disorder, most commonly caused by stroke, that results in problems with speaking, listening, reading, and writing. “Everything here—the atmosphere, the furnishings—is designed for clients and their spouses to talk openly. Sometimes they watch a show together and discuss it afterward with their therapist. At our old clinic, this wasn’t possible.”

The clinic in question used to reside in the Hoople Building on South Crouse Avenue, CSD’s home for more than 40 years. Over the summer, the department graduated to its more spacious, modern digs on South Campus. Critical to the move was Milosky, who worked closely with Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina and Arts and Sciences Dean George M. Langford to find a workable solution to the department’s longtime space needs. The result? A $1.7 million custom renovation of part of the Skytop building, resulting in some 20 new clinical rooms; a large observation suite with computer monitors and a child therapy area; various therapy and testing rooms; two state-of-the-art sound booths for audiology testing; an electrophysiological testing area for infants; and a hearing-aid fitting room, which simulates real-world listening environments, such as crowds and noisy restaurants.

The new space is a far cry from CSD’s humble beginnings in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, which SU established in 1946. The opening of the Hoople Building less than a decade later, along with that of the Gebbie Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic in 1972, gave the fledgling program a home—one that it eventually outgrew. Edward Gage Conture, an expert on stuttering who joined SU’s faculty in 1971, recalls those early halcyon days. “Back then, CSD was an academic program that was rebuilding itself,” he says. “By the time I left Syracuse in the late ’90s, CSD had gone from having a strong regional footprint to a highly respected national one. The success of the Gebbie Clinic had a lot to do with it.”

Originally a program in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and then the School of Education, CSD became a department in Arts and Sciences in 2002. The transition was influenced by multiple factors, including a growing trend among researchers to interact with not only clinicians, but also scholars from seemingly disparate fields, including psychology, biology, neuroscience, and linguistics. Since then, the whole idea of translational science has permeated the department. “Everything we do—in the clinic, in the lab, in the classroom—has a practical application in mind,” says Milosky, who specializes in language acquisition and disorders.

CSD’s timing couldn’t be better, given the growing number of Baby Boomers who deal with speech and language impairments brought on by strokes, brain injuries, and hearing loss. Joseph Pellegrino, director of the Gebbie Audiology Clinic and a professor of clinical practice, knows the statistics all too well. He says that, according to the National Institutes of Health, hearing loss affects 20 percent of people between ages 45 and 59, 33 percent of people in their 60s, and approximately 60 percent of people older than 70. “The numbers are alarming,” Pellegrino says. CSD professor Karen Doherty, a specialist in the early stages of age-related hearing loss, says untreated hearing loss can negatively impact a person’s social, psychological, and cognitive function. “People should seek help for hearing loss as early as possible to reduce these effects,” she says.

Other CSD research is equally compelling, as evidenced by Professor Kathy Vander Werff’s study of the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on auditory processing. “People with TBI may not have trouble detecting sounds, but they experience problems listening in noisy environments,” she says. Professor Beth Prieve focuses on improving diagnostic testing in infants and children, while Professor Mary Louise Edwards examines the phonological production abilities of children and adolescents with speech-sound disorders. 

Nationwide, speech-language pathologists are seeing a spike in the number of young clients, many of whom grapple with language, articulation, swallowing, and social communication challenges. “Fifteen to 20 percent of our population may experience a communication problem,” says Janet Ford, the Gebbie Speech-Language Clinic director and a professor of clinical practice who specializes in the visual-search abilities of autistic children. “Fortunately, we’re detecting these problems sooner in children and adults.” Further evidence of the department’s scholarly mettle is found in Professor Soren Lowell’s work in essential voice tremor, a neurological disease that affects older people, causing rhythmic changes in the voice; and Professor Victoria Tumanova’s integration of the cognitive, linguistic, and neurological aspects of developmental stuttering.

Such cross-cutting scholarship pays big dividends for the community. In addition to close collaborations with SUNY Upstate Medical University and Crouse Hospital, CSD boasts one of the region’s top clinics of its kind. The Gebbie Clinic annually serves more than 3,900 clients, while providing a 24/7 laboratory for graduate-student clinicians. On average, a student pursuing an M.S. degree in speech-language pathology will log 400 to 500 clinical hours; an audiology doctoral (Au.D.) candidate will put in 2,000 to 3,000 hours. Hammam AlMakadma G’11, a Ph.D. candidate in audiology, says the new space improves the department’s capacity. “I think I’m a better student and researcher, as a result of being here,” he says.

The bottom line is a near 100-percent employment rate for CSD’s speech-language pathology and Au.D. graduates. “Our new space makes us better equipped to handle the challenges of and opportunities in the 21st century,” Milosky says. “The field has flourished, and so have we.”     —Rob Enslin


(Photo above) Two parents observe their child's session with Ramani Voleti G'03, a Gebbie Speech-Language Clinic supervisor. 

(Left) CSD chair Linda Milosky leads a class discussion.


In the Gebbie Clinic reception area, Mary Collier, office assistant at the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), schedules a client for a hearing-aid fitting.


Speech-language pathology graduate student Jessica Weise G'10 visits with a preschool-age client.


Audiology doctoral student Kristin McLoone (left) and Gebbie Audiology Clinic supervisor Kristen Kennedy work with a mini microphone that will be used with a patient's hearing aids.

Photos by Steve Sartori