case western reserve university



After a year of restructuring, the College’s department of communication sciences will emerge this fall with a sharper focus, new faculty, and expanded opportunities for students interested in pursuing degrees in this rewarding field.

Until now, the department has been home to two programs: (1) communication studies, in which students developed skills in public speaking and persuasion, with an emphasis on interpersonal and organizational applications; and (2) communication sciences and disorders, which prepared undergraduate and graduate students for careers in speech-language pathology. In 2003-04, however, a departmental review held in consultation with an external committee led to three recommendations that would alter the department’s future.

“We immediately addressed the first two recommendations—separating the two programs and discontinuing the communication studies track within the department,” said acting chair Stephen Haynesworth, who is also an associate dean and associate professor of biology. “The third recommendation was to invest in the communications sciences and disorders track, and build upon our existing strengths in this area. With this recommendation, we took our time and spent much of the last year looking for ways to develop a distinctive, niche program that would attract the best students and researchers.”

The department’s new emphasis, within the field of communication sciences and disorders, will be biological, medical, and clinical issues relevant to children. “We already have built a great reputation for study and research in these areas,” Haynesworth said. “We have a significant number of graduates who are already out there, practicing and thriving, and we have developed longstanding relationships with many of the local health care facilities whose focus is communication sciences and disorders.” Haynesworth pointed to the department’s ongoing collaboration with the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center, whose executive director, Bernard Henri, is an adjunct faculty member in communication sciences.

In addition, Haynesworth sees abundant possibilities for collaboration between department faculty and faculty from Case’s school of engineering, the schools of medicine and dental medicine, the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, and the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, as well as from several departments within Arts and Sciences. The close proximity of leading health care facilities, including Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and The Cleveland Clinic, provides outstanding opportunities for students and faculty alike.

As a result of the restructuring, the department has added three new faculty members, including Angela Ciccia, an alumna of the department’s B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs, who has served as instructor and clinical program director for the past two years (see accompanying story). Although the communication studies track has been discontinued within the department, Haynesworth said that the College still recognizes the need to help students enhance their communication skills. “We are building interdisciplinary programs in this area,” he noted, citing SAGES as an example. “In SAGES, writing and oral communication are integrated into the seminar experience.”


Angela Hein Ciccia (Ph.D., CCC-SLP in Communication Disorders, Case Western Reserve University) studies how adolescents process social information. She uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the neuroanatomy involved in such processing; her subjects include typically developing adolescents as well as adolescents with traumatic brain injury.

“I became interested in studying adolescents while I was working as a speechlanguage pathologist at the University of Texas medical branch,” Ciccia said. “I was assigned to a pediatric rehabilitation unit and was seeing a lot of teenage boys who had sustained head injuries from sports, car accidents, and general risktaking activities. I became frustrated at how little research was available and applicable to this population.” She hopes that the restructured department “can take advantage of the tremendous resources that are available on this campus, and, by doing so, conduct research that will ultimately lead to more efficacious treatment strategies.”

Ciccia’s teaching interests are anatomy and physiology, neuroscience of communication disorders, adult language disorders, and motor speech disorders. She is the faculty advisor for the Case chapter of the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the undergraduate advisor for communication sciences majors.

Patrizia Bonaventura (Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Science, The Ohio State University) conducts research on speech production, perception, and recognition, with the goal of developing new technologies for people with hearing and speech disabilities. At Case, she will establish a speech production lab equipped with an electromagnetic device that measures, graphs, and visualizes movements of the speech organs.

Currently, Bonaventura is working on an automatic speech recognizer that processes both auditory cues (the sounds of speech) and articulatory cues (as in lip reading); most speech recognizers are “trained” to respond to acoustic signals only. She is also collaborating with audiologists at the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center to improve speech interpreting devices for the deaf. Her teaching interests include helping students apply speech science to the improvement of speech technology—an especially promising career field for graduates in communication sciences.

Stacy L. Williams (Ph.D., CCC-SLP in Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Cincinnati) began her career as a speech-language pathologist, creating and customizing software programs for the children she served. Her areas of expertise include augmentative communication, instructional technology, and distance education, all linked to children’s speech-language development and disorders.

At present, Williams’s primary research objective is to investigate uses of virtual reality simulations for subjects with a variety of speech-language disorders. “Case has an outstanding reputation for development and implementation of innovative technology-based applications,” she said. “It is my hope that the newly expanded communication sciences department, applying technological tools and medical advances, will research new and cutting-edge ideas for integrating technology into the field of speechlanguage pathology.”