Bilingual Language Researcher Joins Faculty at Callier Center
Dr. Raúl Rojas’ Research Focuses on Bilingual Language Development in Young Children
Nov. 13, 2012
A conversation with a high school friend sparked Dr. Raúl Rojas’ interest in speech-language pathology, and an encounter with a special young patient led him to a career aimed at helping children.
Rojas heard about the expanding field of speech-language pathology while visiting with an old friend whose sister was studying to be a bilingual clinician. He soon wanted to learn more about communication disorders and the therapies for treating them.
A few years later, while working as an intern at a clinical school in Santa Fé de Bogotá, Colombia and earning a degree in psychology and Latin American history, Rojas realized that he wanted to become a researcher who could make a difference in the lives of children.
“I got to know a 5-year-old with mixed (spastic-athetoid) cerebral palsy named Camilo,” said Rojas, an assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “Camilo told me, ‘Te quiero mucho porque me ayudas’ - I love you because you help me. From that moment, I knew my calling was to help children.”
Rojas joined the UT Dallas faculty this fall. He teaches and conducts research at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders. He just completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at UT Dallas, after earning his bachlor’s degree from Grinnell College, and a master’s degree and PhD from Temple University.
Rojas was born and spent his earliest years in Mexico City, but his family later moved to Matamoros, on the border with the United States. He attended school in Brownsville, Texas.
Rojas said he feels closely connected to both Mexico and the United States, and he enjoys living in Dallas and exploring the city. But you won’t find him on the highways. He cycles to work and takes full advantage of the rapidly expanding DART system.
“The past two years have also allowed me to make valuable connections at the Callier Center and also on the main campus of UT Dallas,” he said. “I am honored at having become a UT Dallas faculty member, and I am excited about joining such a tremendously dynamic university."
Rojas will teach a graduate course in the spring centered on best practices for conducting assessment and providing intervention to bilingual children. His research focuses on child language, specifically bilingual language development in typically developing children and in children with language impairments. He is particularly interested in modeling the bilingual language growth of English language learners in school, and in testing methods for evaluating language learning skills in bilingual speakers.
“One of the most exciting aspects of being a faculty member is stability, the stability to explore longer-term projects, rather than short-term work,” he said. “I also will enjoy having an independent laboratory space, and the ability to hire and train research assistants. Being a faculty member truly affords me the ability to not only develop, but to establish and grow my program of research.”
He is already collaborating with other faculty members, including Dr. Christine Dollaghan, a professor in BBS. They are analyzing data from a project exploring new methods for indexing language processing demands on monolingual and bilingual adults. Rojas also is beginning work with Dr. Kurt Beron, a professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, on models for bilingual language growth for English learning subpopulations.
“As an English language learner myself, I found communication sciences and disorders to be a natural fit, where I could positively impact the lives of children clinically and through research,” Rojas said.
Understanding the factors that influence bilingual language development in typically developing children and in children with language impairment is of growing interest to speech-language pathologists, educators and linguists, said Dr. Thomas Campbell, holder of the Ludwig A. Michael, MD, Callier Center Executive Directorship and the Sara T. Martineau Endowed Professorship.
“Dr. Rojas is one of the few young researchers who have positioned himself to answer some of the important questions in this area,” he said. “We are delighted that he joined the BBS faculty.”
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