College’s oldest dept. proves to be small but mighty

by Emily Murphy / Beacon Staff • February 2, 2012

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Associate Professor Vinoth Jagaroo performs brain dissection at the Semel Theater.
Photo Courtesy of Dan Kempler
Associate Professor Vinoth Jagaroo performs brain dissection at the Semel Theater.
Photo Courtesy of Dan Kempler

A piece of brain dropped on the floor. Associate Professor Vinoth Jagaroo, joked “Don’t worry, I’ll pick that up,” and the crowd laughed, eager to break the tension of a cerebral dissection. Jagaroo moved on to the next step. He steadied the scalpel in his gloved hand, ready to make a careful incision. 

The communication sciences and disorders  department held this brain dissection in front of an audience at Emerson’s Semel Theater last semester. To the best of Jagaroo’s knowledge, it was the first brain dissection done in this manner at Emerson College.  

According to Jagaroo, between 200 to 300 people attended the brain dissection. This event, along with others like Deaf Deaf College, and Communication Week, is part of an ongoing process to raise awareness about the communication sciences and disorders major.

The communication sciences and disorders department is comprised of a mere 75 undergraduate students and is the oldest major at Emerson.

“We always tell our students we’re small but mighty,” Dan Kempler, the chair of the department, said. 

Vice president of the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Kayla Dowd, expressed frustration with the lack of knowledge most Emerson students seem to have when it comes to her concentration. 

Molly Drenzek, a sophomore interested in becoming a speech pathologist, said she likes the modest size of the major. 

“We all end up getting along, so we have little study groups and everyone knows each other,” she said. 

The communication sciences and disorders major also noted that the intimacy of her classes — about 20 students per course, according to Kempler — allows her to develop more individual relationships with her professors.

However, because this major is small, some students feel that communication sciences and disorders doesn’t get enough attention.

“Half of them don’t know what our major is,” said the senior communication sciences and disorders major, “when it’s the major that founded our school.” 

President of ASLEmerson, Elise Pié, also said that not many of her peers understand her major. 

“This major can prepare you to do so many things, and I feel like some people at Emerson don’t know about it — it’s hard to explain what it really is,” said the senior communication disorders major.

According to Kempler, the major is actually compromised of two sub-disciplines: audiology and speech pathology. 

According to multiple sources, in basic terms, audiology is the study of hearing science, while speech-language pathology is the study of voice science. Much like a writing, literature, and publishing student selects a focus in poetry, or a visual and media arts student chooses post-production, a communication disorders student can choose to focus on either audiology or speech-language pathology. 

While learning about hearing or speech may not initially pique a non-communication disorders student’s interest, the tie-ins are closer than students think. 

In the past, the college has charted the NSSLHA’s efforts to make events related to communication sciences and disorders more widespread on campus.

Liz Lidov, a senior communication sciences and disorders major and president of NSSLHA, said the association and the department are supporting each other in hyping events, like the brain dissection, around campus. 

“So whatever [the department] plans,” she said, “I’ll say in our meeting: we’re going to go and do this.” 

According to Lidov, the Association is trying to get other students interested in communication sciences and disorders. This semester, they are planning an event called CSD Awareness. Lidov and Dowd attended the ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) convention, in San Diego last semester. According to Dowd, NSSLHA is the undergraduate student bracket of this association. 

The convention hosted a variety of presentations and events, but Lidov and Dowd were particularly interested in the poster sessions, where you could stop, listen, and talk to different presenters showcasing their research. 

“We just thought it was such a good idea,” Dowd said. NSSLHA plans to recreate a similar event, according to Dowd and Lidov. 

However, the posters for CSD Awareness at Emerson will focus on subjects that are interesting for any student, regardless of major. Lidov said NSSLHA plans to cover transgender voices, the effects of smoking on the voice, obtaining/losing accents, and general introductions to audiology and speech-language pathology. She also said the Association has not set a date for the event, but they plan to organize it for this spring. 

CSD Awareness is by no means the only communication sciences and disorders related event going on at Emerson this semester. ASLEmerson is planning an event called Deaf Deaf College, which is in its third year, according to Pié. She said during this event the organization models Emerson’s campus as if every student were deaf. 

Additionally, the department is planning Communication Week for the third year in a row, Kempler said.  This event hosts guest lecturers and group student meetings, among other activities. 

“It’s both student-focused and about getting other students on the campus and the community aware of what we do,” Kempler said.

With regards to the recent up-cropping of these events, Kempler said he firmly believes in reaching out to students across all majors. 

“We’ve been trying to make these events grow, trying to make it regular, and trying to invite everybody as a way to introduce students all over the campus to them,” Kempler said. “And we always have a few students who see it, but students are very busy.”

Lidov also noted the busy lives of students around campus. 

“We’re all so involved and passionate in what we do that we can forget what else is out there,” she said. 

Lidov said she made a conscious effort last semester to explore activities not directly associated with communications sciences and disorders. 

“Expanding to other majors is really eye-opening,” Lidov said. “People outside of communications disorders may think we have more work just because we’re more science-y and math-related, but I will see a production and think about how much work they’re putting into that, too.”