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Ruth Harris: Next, the Voice Science Lab

ruth harris

Even though Ruth Harris retired from the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences several years ago, she has kept involved with the College by serving as a volunteer. Harris’ history with the university goes back to 1977; she was the first full time Coordinator of the Language Speech and Hearing Center in the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences. Last November, she was recognized by the University at the CSUN Volunteer Service Awards Event.

Instrumental to the next phase of developing a voice lab, Harris is currently building support for the Voice Science Lab in the department. And she has volunteered her time - and her home - to keep academic, professional and community networks strong. Most recently, she invited CSUN President Jolene Koester to host a talk about ways to keep the community and faculty involved and interactive. Harris has also hosted alumni groups for holiday events.

“We’re still in the early phases of building momentum for the Voice Science Lab,” says Harris. “We’re getting input from community members and alumni and are looking forward to a reception at the California Speech Language Hearing Association (CSHA) convention in LA this spring.” The voice lab will feature voice science equipment including diagnostic and video imaging to help identify dysfunction or disease.

close up of award trophy

Expanded clinical experiences for the students will allow the students to work with clients, teaching vocal techniques and exercises to reduce tension or otherwise improve the voice. As with the Language Speech and Hearing Center, the voice lab will have mass appeal for a variety of vocal rehabilitation applications and will create opportunities for student education across the allied health fields.

“Some of the people who can benefit from the vocal lab are those recovering from illness or injury.” Harris says, “We can help someone recovering from an experience such as cancer that affected the vocal cords, and we can also help those whose voices suffer from complications from day to day use, for example, teachers, coaches, singers or lecturers. Some children can develop vocal nodules from something as simple as yelling on the playground. Untreated, this can complicate use of the voice throughout life,” says Harris.

close up of award trophy

And the Vocal Lab project is just another demonstration of Harris’ dedication and innovative spirit. She came to campus when the department was relatively new.The academic curriculum included clinical experiences for the students in a speech clinic housed in a “temporary facility” a re-purposed groundskeeper’s house on Plummer Street. Harris says, “The clinic rooms were built in a converted garage, and an old horse tack room had been transformed into a hearing testing area; we called it the ‘audiological suite'." Harris says.

"I got to campus as the department and programs were ready for a new phase of development, and slowly, over the years, we were able to build specialty clinics, acquire new equipment, and get video monitoring capabilities into the rooms. We also built up a video library so students could watch the therapy process before practicing with clients.”

“The federal government had just passed the an extension of the Education Act dealing with infants and toddlers, ages 0-3, with disabilities and their families,” says Harris, “and our next step was to look for ways to create an early intervention program for these children with special needs. There were no clear protocols yet for young children - this was a new area to develop.”monterey hall

Ruth Lencione, a retired professor from Syracuse University was teaching part time for the department. Lencione and Harris combined their experience and drive to write and obtain a federal grant to train university students to work with young children, age 0-3 and their families. “Ruth [Lencione’s] PhD and background gave us the academic support and expertise to get the three year grant, and the Early Intervention Program was born.”

“We were proud of the multidisciplinary strength of the program as well,” Harris adds. “The program engaged Physical Therapy, Early Childhood Education, and Speech Pathology, and those disciplines are still strong in the department today.

As the programs strengthened and expanded, the department acquired new housing in Monterey Hall, a former dormitory made vacant by the Northridge Earthquake (the prior tenant, the Department of Education, moved to a new building).

Harris worked with the faculty and architects to conceptualize the organization of the rooms, design the clinics and labs, and set up the way the building would work for the department. “It was a nice ride,” says Harris, “and I’m really looking forward to what we can do next!”

- Jean O'Sullivan

Event and Lab photography by Lee Choo