“Inherent beauty in the spoken word”

Grant will help speech-language-hearing sciences professor conduct research in Guyana

By Emilie Zuhowski, '20

Lena Caesar, Ed.D., Ph.D., associate professor of speech-language-hearing sciences, has been awarded a two-year research grant in support of her research project, “The Ecological Validity of Narrative Sample Analysis for Diagnosing Language Disorders in Guyanese Children.” Caesar will use the $75,000 grant from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation to work to improve the lives of children in Guyana, South America, by collecting evidence-based data that will assist in the accurate diagnosis of communication impairments in clinical populations.

Loyola magazine asked Caesar to speak about this exciting new opportunity, as well as discuss her impactful research and teaching experiences both here at Loyola and throughout the world.

What brought you to Loyola?

Loyola found me—and I found Loyola! When I moved to Maryland after 15 years of university teaching and administration in Michigan, I searched for an institution that shared similar values with my previous institution—values that balanced academic rigor with the holistic development of the student (cura personalis).

I was also attracted by the possibilities of clinical research that the Loyola Clinical Centers could offer. From the start I knew it was a perfect fit for me, and I have continued to enjoy the privilege of being part of a dynamic, supportive, and forward-looking department. I am now starting my seventh academic year here at Loyola.

How did you become interested in speech-language pathology?

I actually started out as a high school English language and literature teacher. Although my teaching focused mainly on writing, I always had an intense love for the inherent beauty of the spoken word. After teaching high school for over a decade, I ‘accidentally’ stumbled  upon the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology—professions dedicated to restore and enhance a person’s ability to communicate effectively. When I found it, I knew I had hit the jackpot—and I still believe I have.

Why should students consider studying speech at Loyola?

Hands down, Loyola offers students the “best package” they will find anywhere! We have an excellent academic program, taught by highly qualified faculty, the majority of whom are also clinicians. But what makes the Loyola program unique is the faculty’s commitment to supporting and caring for the whole person, and the opportunities for inter-professional training and experiences that the Loyola Clinical Centers foster.

What types of courses do you teach at Loyola?

At the undergraduate level, I teach courses in both normal language development in children and abnormal language development or language disorders in children. My graduate teaching, on the other hand, is closely aligned with my research interests. In addition, I am the resident specialist in the area of fluency disorders. Most of my teaching focuses on the appropriate assessment and intervention for individuals with speech and language disorders.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the impact that health and other socio-cultural variables may have on bilingual and bi-dialectical children’s language development, and the appropriate, accurate, and non-biased assessment of children from multicultural backgrounds.

How did you come up with the idea for the research proposal that this grant will fund?

The goals of my current research project are closely aligned with the 2013 collaboration agreement between the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), which are currently working to improve the quality of speech-language pathology and audiology service-delivery in several developing countries, including Guyana.

The idea for this project was born in the summer of 2016 when I volunteered as a part-time online lecturer in the Speech Therapy department at the University of Guyana (as part of the ASHA-PAHO collaboration). As I attempted to guide the small group of Guyanese students through the principles of non-biased and appropriate assessment, I realized that I was requiring them to use assessment instruments that were not evidence-based. None of the tests that I had selected for their class assignments were normed on individuals who spoke Guyanese Creole. I realized that it would be extremely difficult for these budding speech-language pathologists to accurately distinguish children with language disorders from those who were developing normally…

By using samples of children’s storytelling abilities at different age levels, my goal is to document normal language acquisition in Guyanese children. This information would assist clinicians in distinguishing between language differences and language disorders among children who speak Guyanese Creole.

What will the grant make it possible for you to do?

The 2017 ASHFoundation Clinical Research grant has given me the opportunity to address a significant clinical need that can improve the lives of children in Guyana who may have a communication disorder or may be at-risk for developing one.

Will your students be involved in your research?

At every stage. Undergraduate students here at Loyola University Maryland, as well as undergraduate students at the international site at the University of Guyana, will function as my research assistants. They are the wind beneath my wings—I could not do it without them!

What is most rewarding about your research?

I find joy in mere discovery, but I experience even greater joy when my discoveries can play a role in improving the quality of speech-language pathology services provided to needy individuals.

I am also excited that this project is aligned with Loyola’s commitment to global involvement and internationalization. I love that this line of research provides me with an opportunity to form global connections while also challenging my students at Loyola to become global-minded citizens.

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