Lee McLean and Melissa Koppenhaver
Lee McLean (right), a “cyber faculty” expert for the Communication Disorders Program in Severe Disabilities at Western, discusses problematic cases with Melissa Koppenhaver, a speech pathologist for Buncombe County schools, during a recent conference at Western.

CULLOWHEE – Three of the nation's top experts in speech-language pathology and special education, who serve as long-distance “cyber faculty” for a federally funded training program at Western Carolina University, got their first chance to meet face-to-face with the program's students during a recent conference at Western.

The March 25-26 conference on severe disabilities and autism brought the expert teachers to campus to interact with students -- Western graduate students and practicing speech-language pathologists – participating in the Communication Disorders Program in Severe Disabilities.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Research, the program is designed help address a national and regional shortage in the number of speech-language pathologists who are prepared to work with individuals with severe disabilities.

Bill Ogletree, Western professor of communication disorders, secured a $1.4 million grant in 2001 to provide the training so that speech pathologists and students-in-training can better meet the communication needs of people with severe to profound developmental disabilities and autism.

The five-year program is in its third year. Graduate students participate for a full year, undergoing eight weeks of intensive courses during the summer in addition to fulfilling 50 hours of clinical work. Practicing speech pathologists attend the summer courses. Both groups of students receive stipends to help cover expenses.

So far, 24 graduate students and 20 practicing speech-language pathologists have participated in or completed the training. The just-completed second year of the program attracted practicing speech-language pathologists from as far away as California, Florida and New York, Ogletree said.

Typically, students learn from the “cyber faculty” during presentations streamed over the Internet to an interactive computer classroom, but the conference brought teachers, students and program alumni together in the same place to talk about best practice issues and problematic cases.

The expert faculty includes Lee McLean, chair and professor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's department of allied health services; Ellin Siegel, associate professor in special education at the University of Nebraska; and Amy Wetherby, professor and executive director of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at Florida State University.

The instructional faculty at Western, in addition to Ogletree, includes David Westling, Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professor in Special Education; Karena Cooper-Duffy, assistant professor of special education; and Karen Lunnen, associate professor of physical therapy.

For more information about the Communication Disorders Program in Severe Disabilities, contact Ogletree at (828) 227-3379 or the program Web site: http://ceap.wcu.edu/cdpsd/cdpsd.html# .

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Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2004
Copyright 2003 by Western Carolina University