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NMSU Speech and Hearing Center celebrates 50 years of service to community

In 1962, New Mexico State University professor Edgar R. Garrett opened a speech and hearing center and the communication disorders undergraduate and graduate academic program. This year, the facility celebrates its 50th anniversary of serving the community.

Two female staff members of the speech and hearing center engage in a play activity with two early-elementary-school boys. The four are building with blocks as
Speech and Hearing Center staff engages in play activity with children. (photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

In those 50 years, there have been scientific breakthroughs and the technology has changed. Countless patients have been through the doors; generations of students have fulfilled careers of their own. But today, the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center still provides diagnostic and therapeutic services to Southern New Mexico while providing clinical experience to students at NMSU.

"The reasons Dr. Edgar R. Garrett started the clinic were, number one, to provide excellent clinical services to clients, and number two, to provide superior clinical education for students and clinicians," said Marlene Salas-Provance, interim special education and communication disorders department head. "And I think that's happened."

From infants to the geriatric population, the Edgar R. Garrett Speech and Hearing Center treats patients with autism, dyslexia and language development problems, as well as those suffering from a stroke, Down syndrome or Parkinson's disease. A not-for-profit organization, the center provides individual and group therapy sessions as well as summer communication camps for children in the community for no fee or a significantly reduced rate.

The speech and hearing center has been at its current location since the early 1980s. It has six therapy rooms, an audiology suite and a student work room. The labs are equipped with the latest technology for faculty and clinicians to do instrumental evaluations and research in the fields of hearing and speech science and speech-language pathology.

"It is important to celebrate this clinic, for it has provided consistent and state-of-the-art education for training speech language pathologists while providing a needed service to the community," Salas-Provance said.

Graduate students in the NMSU communications disorders program provide all of the center's services with supervision from program faculty, who are certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the New Mexico Speech-Language Pathology, Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensing Practices Board. In the fall semester of 2011, more than 1,000 hours of direct clinical services were provided to the community by first year graduate students.

"It's exactly what we'll be doing--providing therapy," said Nora Brosnan, first year graduate student, of the program. "It helps us prepare for the various types of clients we'll be seeing."

The NMSU communication disorders program is nationally recognized for training bilingual speech pathologists. Of the 260 speech pathology programs nationally, NMSU is one of 41 to train bilingual speech pathologists, and to provide bilingual services to the community.

Salas-Provance said that in training speech language pathologists, it is first an academic program, "but it is a clinical profession, so it's important for students to learn how to be clinicians."

In addition to providing services on-site, graduate students travel into the community to school districts and health fairs to provide screenings where patients may not otherwise be able to travel to the center.

Garrett began his career at NMSU in 1948 and was a pioneer in the field of speech language pathology, nationally recognized for his work with articulation disorders and clinical practice. He was appointed head of the Speech Department in 1965, a position he held for 19 years. After serving as the assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1969 to 1971, he became the director of the Communication Disorders Program in 1984

"Dr. Edgar Garrett would be proud of the legacy he left for NMSU, for Las Cruces and for the surrounding community," Salas-Provance said at a recent celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary. "Today is to honor that legacy and to say, 'we've done good work Dr. Garrett.'"