AAC Leadership Project — Reflecting on achievements, and welcoming recruitment

The overall mission of the PSU AAC Community is to improve the quality of life for the more than two million Americans who have complex communication needs.  As a significant contribution towards that effort, we have been thrilled to engage the AAC Leadership Project,  a federally funded training grant in AAC (U.S. Department of Education grant #H325D110008) designed to prepare and support faculty researchers specifically interested in the unique needs of persons with complex communication needs.  We are eager to encourage and welcome those interested in being a part of this Project with our final recruitment effort.

Since 2011, PhD scholars with the AAC Leadership Project have been participating in a multi-tiered program strategically designed to prepare doctoral level faculty to foster research which enhances our knowledge and understanding on high quality evidence-based AAC intervention, to be prepared to teach and train future SLPs in the necessary competencies, and to rise with confidence and clarity as leaders in the field.  At every component, the program is developed according to the individual skills and interests of the scholar, and with the prominent mentorship of AAC Faculty.

I.  Education.  The Penn State AAC Leadership Project doctoral curriculum includes:

  • 12 to 15 credits with AAC Major Content areas of Interventions to Improve Language Outcomes for Beginning Communicators, Interventions to Improve Literacy and Academic Achievement, and Interventions to Improve Services and Results for High-Need Children
  • 6 to 9 credits with Minor Content areas of Theories of Language Development/Environmental Influences on Language Development, Inter-disciplinary Case-based Approach to Language Disorders, and SLPs in the Schools and Early Intervention
  • 3 to 6 credits of Minor Content in specialized areas of interest such as independent studies around universal design, cognitive science, motor performance, visual processing, literacy learning, among others.
  • 9 to 12 credits to build competence with Statistics and Research Methods including training in the responsible conduct of research.

- Doctoral students also have varied opportunities to participate in mentored teaching experiences with both undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as clinical teaching experiences with our Masters students to help them develop their clinical competencies in AAC.  Accordingly, scholars with the AAC Leadership Project receive training in research-based methods of college teaching, and the development of a teaching portfolio.

II.  Research:  The doctoral students at Penn State are typically involved in a number of research experiences as part of their graduate program, culminating in their doctoral dissertation project.  These research experiences are mentored individually based on each student’s interests.

We are committed to disseminating the results of our research to the field to advance knowledge and understanding.  With this goal in mind, doctoral students are actively involved in writing papers for publication in journals or presentation at state, national, or international conferences.

Working Memory in Select Etiologies: AAC Implications — Presentation at ISAAC (July, 2012)

ASHA 2012 Presentations by Penn State Faculty and Students (November, 2012)

PhD Scholars Present at Interdisciplinary Research Forum & Reception, Graduate Exhibition (March, 2013)

PSU PhD Scholars at PSHA Convention (April, 2013)

Research on eye tracking to inform AAC design for individuals with ID — Poster Presentation at Tobii Eye Tracking Conference on Behavioral Research (April, 2013)

III.  Leadership:  Explicit discussion, resources, and practical experiences are designed to build greater capacity with the art and science of leadership.  This includes, but is not limited to:  inservice training, web resources, model demonstration project of AAC Evidence Based Practice (EBPs), and a capstone leadership project.  Scholars are supported in accessing varied views on leadership generally; with the Penn State Women’s Leadership Initiative, as one example.  The Penn State AAC community has also worked to organize opportunities to connect with defining leaders in the AAC field like Dr. Pat Mirenda so that PhD scholars can hear directly from their personal insights.  In addition, informal, “Brown Bag” sessions are held regularly each semester — organized by the PhD scholars in collaboration with the AAC Faculty to provide a regular and open forum to reflect their questions, concerns, and interests specific to the challenges faced by research and university faculty.

In addition to the specifics of the Leadership Project, the AAC Community at Penn State offers a unique experience with particular respect for the wealth of knowledge and support that is gained from our joined efforts.

- Colloquium is a weekly opportunity for the Penn State AAC community to discuss a broad range of topics including research updates, clinical case profiles, and areas of special interest.

- The AAC Assistive Technology Lab is used for preservice teaching across the full range of academics at PSU (undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral), as a resource for assessment and intervention purposes within our clinical program, and for research purposes.  The Lab also houses a library of specialized AAC references and a resource library.

- A defined commitment to be informed and responsive to the most critical stakeholders:  individuals who communicate with AAC, and their families.   The PSU AAC Community underscores that priority with frequent visits from individuals like Nazareth Godfrey to share his incredible insights and experiences as an individual who incorporates the full range of multimodal communication, and Rob Rummel-Hudson, dad to Schuyler and author of Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords as a parent who can speak directly to the impact of AAC both for individuals and their families.

If you wish to apply for the doctoral program within the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, please access information on application procedures through the department website.  Deadlines are in early February for the next academic year.

If you would like to discuss the program in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Janice Light at JCL4@psu.edu and a time to talk can be arranged.

You can also share this information with persons you believe may be interested either by directing them to this website, or printing out a flyer.

FAQ:   Are there Internet-based or distance learning opportunities?

The Penn State AAC community and the AAC-RERC program have produced a wide range of webcasts/web-seminars and resources available for free to support continuing education and dialogue about critical issues for communicators with complex needs.

The program specific to PhD scholars has been designed to be comprehensive and provide focused, individualized, direct experiences across education (coursework and teaching), research, and leadership skills.   There is a deep commitment to the value of mentorship throughout each of these areas and all levels of learning. At this time, the PSU AAC Community feels strongly that these goals are best served through on-site learning and support.

FAQ:   How long does it typically take to complete the AAC Leadership Project expectations?

The design of the program is structured to be completed with three years of intensive, focused work and support across all areas.

FAQ:   How does the funding work?  Are there other funding options for prospective doctoral scholars?

The training grant provides funding support for doctoral students through graduate fellowships that provide full tuition and a yearly stipend.  There is a “work or repay” requirement:  for every year of grant funds received, graduates are required to work in a qualified position for 2 years.  There are also other funding options available for doctoral students through departmental assistantships.  While these include full tuition and a monthly stipend, students funded in this manner also must work 20 hours/week as research assistants or teaching assistants.  Careful consideration is made to develop these experiences to enhance their competencies in research and teaching.

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