Naomi Rodgers doesn’t remember life before she began stuttering.
But ever since she began her graduate education in the University of Iowa’s communication sciences and disorders program, she’s been preparing to serve others who stutter through her research, teaching, and clinical work.
Leading the field
The UI’s graduate programs in speech pathology and audiology are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
“I do what I do because I am continually inspired and motivated by other people who stutter. I still have a lot of questions about my own stuttering and the stuttering experiences of other people who I’ve had the honor of working with,” says Rodgers, who is pursuing her doctorate. “My time at the UI has been really formative in helping me develop skills that I’ll need to continue my research and answer some of those questions.”
Rodgers, who is originally from Glencoe, Illinois, says she chose to study at the UI because of its national reputation as a leader in audiology and speech-language pathology. The department is one of the oldest and largest programs of its kind, and has been training students and serving clients with speech, language, and hearing disorders for more than 60 years.
“That has always been a big draw. I wanted to be a part of that story,” Rodgers says.
A large part of what makes that training unique is the department’s proximity to UI Hospitals and Clinics, which creates an opportunity for students across disciplines to collaborate to solve problems.
“A lot of advances in our understanding of speech, language, and hearing problems have come from research done in this department and in collaboration with other departments on campus and around the world,” says Jerry Moon, professor and program chair. “We continue to attract top students and do our very best to educate them and send them out to represent us and be leaders in their own right.”
The department also is a leader in the field because of its expert faculty, who not only work with students to make significant research advancements but take an interdisciplinary approach to treating communication disorders in the clinic.
“Our students are receiving top-notch experiences with a clinical educator who is an expert in their field,” says Karen Bryant, clinic director and associate professor for speech pathology. “If you pair that with what the students learn through their coursework, it translates into providing quality therapy to our clients who come in with a variety of disorders.”
Rodgers, who began speech therapy when she was young child, can attest to the important role a speech-language pathologist can play in a child’s life. In fact, it was her high school speech-language pathologist—who stuttered herself—who inspired her to enter the field.
“If I hadn’t met her and worked with her, there’s no way I would have even fathomed that I could go into this field,” Rodgers says. “Having her as a role model was important so I could see what it looks like for a person who stutters to learn how to become an effective communicator. It made me take an interest in helping other people who stutter.”
Rodgers already has completed her master’s degree in speech-language pathology at the UI. Now a doctoral candidate, she’s focused on studying the science behind stuttering in the Stuttering Research Lab. Her dissertation will focus on understanding how adolescents who stutter process social information and whether those tendencies place them at heightened risk for social anxiety.
“Stuttering is probably one of the most misunderstood communication disorders that our field works with. Many speech-language pathologists have reported that they feel uncomfortable working with people who stutter just because it is a very cognitively and emotionally involved disorder,” says Rodgers. “Being a person who stutters, I feel I understand the experience from the inside out, and that’s definitely inspired the research that I do.”
After earning her PhD, Rodgers says she hopes to enter an academic setting where she’ll be able to continue research that examines the emotional and cognitive aspects of stuttering in adolescents while passing her experience with stuttering on to her students so they can gain a well-rounded perspective on this disorder.
“I hope that my research and my work in the lab will inform my ability to be an effective teacher of undergraduate and master’s students who will go on to serve the stuttering community,” Rodgers says. “That really means a lot to me.”