Assistant Professor Jillian McCarthy-Maeder and Professor Emeritus Ilsa Schwarz Receive $1,020,381 Grant for Language and Literacy Outcomes Project

Grant to Fund 32 Graduate Students – Recruiting Begins in Fall 2015

Jillian McCarthy-Maeder
Dr. Jillian McCarthy-Maeder, right, received a $1,020,381 grant from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to support the training of master’s-level students in the use of augmentative and alternative communication techniques to aid children unable to use speech for effective communication. She and Emily Noss, a clinical assistant professor, grant field experience coordinator and project manager, demonstrate technology that can be used to help children communicate.

Jillian McCarthy-Maeder, PhD, CCC-SLP, assistant professor in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology in the College of Health Professions at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $1,020,381 from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. The funds will support the training of master’s-level students in an area of high national need – literacy and language outcomes for children with severe or complex communication needs (CCN) who are unable to use speech for effective communication. Dr. McCarthy-Maeder’s co-investigator is Ilsa Schwarz, PhD, CCC-SLP, FASHA, professor emeritus in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology.

The award, which will be distributed over a five-year period, will fund their project titled, “Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Language, and Literacy Initiative to Prepare Speech-Language Pathologists.”

Drs. McCarthy-Maeder and Schwarz are also the recipients of a recent Department of Education grant for $1,002,883 to train students in the area of language and literacy for children who are deaf/hard of hearing.

This new award will support the training of 32 graduate students with three semesters each of tuition remission and stipend support. Upon completion, the students will graduate with specialty training to improve the language and literacy outcomes for children with CCN who would benefit from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies, which include computerized speech and language systems and picture support systems. The specialty preparation will include courses on the topics of language, literacy, and AAC, as well as three semesters of practicum in settings with children with severe disabilities who use or would benefit from AAC strategies.

As part of their preparation, trainees will participate in an eight-week summer reading program for children who use or would benefit from the innovative technology. According to Emily Noss, MA, CCC-SLP, a clinical assistant professor, the grant field experience coordinator and project manager, “The summer reading program will allow trainees to hone their clinical skills with children who have varying language disabilities and who use these systems across a range of ages.  This type of clinical experience will allow for integration of academic courses with clinical experiences, which is unique to this program.”

Prior to graduation, all of the trainees will prepare a capstone research project about the language and literacy development of children who are unable to use speech to communicate effectively and benefit from AAC systems. Additionally, trainees will complete the disciplinary requirements for state licensure and the prerequisites for starting the clinical fellowship year required for certification by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

“Augmentative and alternative communication is a growing field,” said Dr. McCarthy-Maeder. “The development of the iPad and other tablets, as well as eye tracking systems, has changed how individuals with communication and motor needs access language. Speech-language pathologists in the educational setting often indicate that they are not as prepared to serve children with complex communication needs who would benefit from this technology. The funds from this grant will not only help to recruit some of the best students in the country to our program, but the research completed over the next few years will assist in understanding the best ways to improve language and literacy instruction for children with complex communication needs who are at significant risk for not developing the skills they need for educational, social and employment success.”

Student recruitment starts this fall, and nine students will begin the program in January 2016. For more information regarding training opportunities, contact Noss at (865) 974-5019; eclark1@utk.edu.

The UTHSC Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology is located on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Research projects completed will be conducted through the University of Tennessee – Augmentative and Alternative, Language, and Literacy Lab (UT-AAC) https://uthsc.edu/health-professions/asp/research/aacl/index.php and the Language and Literacy Lab (L3)  https://uthsc.edu/health-professions/asp/research/l3/index.php directed by Drs. McCarthy-Maeder and Schwarz.

The Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. For more information, visit www.ed.gov.