Jennifer Kent-Walsh

Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders 2016 Womens History Month

What is your current job title and responsibilities (please make sure we know your College, Department, etc.)?
Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, College of Health and Public Affairs
Director, FAAST Atlantic Region Assistive Technology Demonstration Center

What is your history at UCF and before UCF? (past job titles, responsibilities)
I came to UCF as an Assistant Professor immediately upon graduation with my Ph.D. from Penn State in 2003. I was promoted to Associate Professor and tenured in 2009, and promoted to Professor in 2015. I have previously worked as a classroom teacher and speech-language pathologist in public school and hospital settings in Canada and England.

What is your academic background?
I hold a Bachelor of Education Degree in Secondary Mathematics and English from McGill University (Montreal, QC, Canada), a Master of Science Degree in Human Communication Disorders from Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS, Canada), and a Doctor of Philosophy in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Penn State. I maintain clinical certification through Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), as well as Florida State Licensure as a Speech-Language Pathologist.

What is your favorite UCF memory?
There are many great memories, but I am currently living what will become my favorite series of UCF memories I think! After having split space at UCF up to this point for the assistive technology center I established in 2005 and my research lab, my clinical collaborator – Instructor Nancy Harrington – and I are in the midst of making a new and expanded space a joint home for the FAAST Atlantic Region Assistive Technology Demonstration Center and the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Lab.   Providing access to both clinical and research resources for our students, clients with complex communication needs, their families, and community-based partners in one shared space is truly a dream come true!

If you could change one thing at UCF, what would it be? ($ and time no object)
I have long wanted to see changes in some of the family-related policies at UCF. Some recent changes like formalizing a maternity/paternity leave policy have been encouraging in comparison to my experiences as a new mother on the tenure track at UCF, but I would like to see other policy changes/additions relating to work-life balance across the lifespan.   Examples include establishing a family leave policy for medical emergencies and expanded tuition benefits for family members. I believe these types of policies communicate respect for faculty and staff members who have shown sustained commitment to UCF and enhance sustained loyalty/identification with the institution over time.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with your colleagues?
I would suggest that academics take time to be reflective in an effort to remain true to their goals and passions. I think there can sometimes be distractions that come up in daily academic life through options to get involved in initiatives that may be worthwhile, but may also take you away from your overall professional priorities and mission.

If UCF was going to name something in your honor, what would you like it to be and why?
I would love to have a “technology bar” showcasing education-related technologies for students with and without disabilities named after me at UCF. I would envision something that looks contemporary and inviting with an “Apple Store” kind of vibe/layout where students and community members could come and try varying assistive and instructional technologies that could support their academic work.

If you could have lunch with anyone at UCF (who you do not normally eat lunch with), who would you choose and why?
I think it would be interesting to have lunch with Provost Whitakker to learn more about his perspectives on UCF’s future since he has been here for a relatively short period of time, and has already brought new energy and direction to the institution at large in my opinion.

Who at UCF would you like to thank for your success?
I would like to sincerely thank the Department Chair who hired me – Dr. Jane Lieberman. Dr. Lieberman became a true mentor to me at UCF; she pushed and encouraged me to grow as an academic and to “reach for the stars” in all areas of my professional and personal life. The passion Jane exhibited during her time at UCF for mentoring others and selflessly giving of her time and talents to better our department and those working within it was inspiring.

Name and describe a teacher or researcher from your past who truly inspired you and why.
I was inspired by many wonderful teachers and researchers who demonstrated true passion for learning and advancing their science during my school and university years, but one who particularly stands out in inspiring me to pursue a career in academia was my research advisor during my Master’s program – Dr. Melanie Campbell. Melanie’s approachable and positive energy made it a pleasure to work with her and learn from her as I was conducting my first research study; I was able to envision a future for myself in academia for the first time as a result of working with Melanie.

What undergraduate or graduate class/program/experience inspired you the most and why?
When I was a graduate student clinician in speech-language pathology, I had an experience in working with a young woman about my age who had a brainstem stroke at the time she was engaged to be married. She had a young daughter and many dreams for the future when her life path and the lives of her family members were changed forever in an instant. I saw her when she was more than a year post stroke and she had no voluntary motor movements other than eye movements. I was shocked that she had received no relevant services to set up a reliable mode of communication; although her family and caregivers could spell out messages by reciting the alphabet and having her “look up” with her eyes to indicate when she wanted to select a letter, she had no viable means to communicate independently or with her young daughter who was not yet literate. This experience inspired me to concentrate my clinical work and pursue my Ph.D. in the area of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

What is your favorite restaurant or food?
There are many restaurants I enjoy with family and friends in Central Florida, but I would say a consistent favorite throughout my time here has been Seasons 52.

What is your favorite movie, book or music?
I spend a lot of time reading children’s books in my personal life these days since I have two young children; reading books from my own childhood again with my daughters Faith and Grace has given me a whole new appreciation for the meaning inherent within many classic children’s books. I have to say my favorite is “Oh the Places You Will Go” by Dr. Seuss. The truth in the anecdotes and overall message of this book is remarkable. Life is an incredible journey with many twists and turns along the way which lead us to unexpected places and experiences…….and taking chances in pushing beyond your comfort zone is certainly an important part of the ride!

What is your favorite vacation destination?
I love any vacation involving a beachfront location and/or a lazy river pool! Marco Island has become a favorite beach get-away of my family during our time in Florida, and our all-time favorite lazy river pool is at the JW Marriott right here in Orlando!


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