Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

Students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) at Penn State study human communication disorders by acquiring a strong foundation in the basic sciences and processes related to communication, swallowing, and cognition. Students acquire critical-thinking skills necessary to apply foundational knowledge and skills to the identification, assessment, and treatment of communication disorders.

Academic and Clinical Offerings

The department offers academic course work and clinical experiences leading to bachelor's and master's degrees in speech-language pathology. The department also offers doctoral degrees in communication sciences and disorders.

Studies underway to help children, adults overcome communications obstacles

Research, part of CSD grant, focuses on improving outcomes for those who rely on alternative communication

Janice Light

Penn State's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), in collaboration with Oregon Health and Science University, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and InvoTek, has been awarded a grant for a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC) from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The grant, which provides approximately $5 million of funding over a five-year period, consists of four components: research, development, training and dissemination, said principal investigator Janice Light, who holds the Hintz Family Endowed Chair in Children’s Communicative Competence. David McNaughton, professor of special education, will lead the training and dissemination activities.

Throughout the next few years, the funds will fuel a variety of research projects both on University Park’s campus and across the country.

Now, seven of the research and development projects are underway.

Oct. 1 was the kickoff for these projects, Light explained, and while they all have been initiated, researchers are in the very beginning stages.

“We have five years of work (ahead),” she said.

The first of the projects, Light explained, examines brain computer interface, and focuses primarily on individuals who have minimal movement, whether from a brain stem stroke or ALS. The goal of this particular project, which is being led by Melanie Fried-Oken at Oregon Health and Science University, is to develop improved ways for these individuals to access and control computers to talk, work and conduct other activities.

Essentially, brain computer interfaces function by placing electrodes on the user’s head, and letting the brain response guide and control the computer.

“That kind of technology is in early development stages, but it offers exciting possibilities for individuals who are ‘locked in’ and are unable to communicate” Light said.

Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Facts

  • The history of the department at Penn State goes back to 1933. The department always has been nationally recognized for its academic, research, and clinical outreach programs for educating speech-language pathologists and audiologists.
  • In 1987, the department joined the College of Health and Human Development to continue its mission of excellence in research, teaching, and outreach activities in speech, language, and audiology.
  • In the early 1990s, a new, critical area in the discipline emerged (augmentative and alternative communication) in which the department became a key leader worldwide, along with a few other universities.
  • During the last two decades, the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Program at Penn State became a national leader in training research scholars and master clinicians.
  • The AAC Program at Penn State is the number one program in the United States focusing on translational research, teaching, and outreach activities to improve the lives of children and adults with severe communication disabilities.
  • The department continues to expand its role as a worldwide leader. It has eight undergraduate and graduate courses in AAC, and it offers unique learning and research experiences with direct applications for enhancing the quality of life for children and adults with severe communication disabilities. The department also offers interdisciplinary and collaborative weekly seminars aimed at bringing together like-minded faculty members, staff members, students, parents, teachers, and members of the community.
  • In 2007, the department moved into a newly renovated space with four floors for teaching and research activities and a newly designed Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic.
  • The undergraduate program continues to flourish as numerous publications have named speech-language pathology and audiology careers among the top 10 best careers in the United States.

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