Callier Program Trains Fellows for Research Careers

Dr. Raúl Rojas and Dr. Asimina Syrika recently joined UT Dallas as postdoctoral fellows at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders.

The Callier Postdoctoral Fellowship gives young researchers an opportunity to develop their own independent research in communications sciences and disorders and to collaborate with Callier and other UT Dallas faculty.

“The research fellowship prepares young researchers for careers in academia,” said Dr. Thomas Campbell, executive director of the Callier Center.  “The fellows publish papers, present at national and international conferences and enhance their ability to secure federal funding to aid their research.”

The two-year fellowship was first offered in 2008.

“This is a very unique fellowship that allows us to hit the ground running,” said Rojas, who received his PhD in communication disorders from Temple University. “We’re coming in with our own ideas for research and are being given the opportunity and support to pursue them.”

Although the fellows develop their own research, they work closely with their faculty mentors and use the resources of one or more of the 13 laboratories housed at the Callier Center.

Rojas’ research focuses on language growth in children who are native Spanish speakers and English language learners (ELL) – children who are bilingual, but don’t have enough knowledge of the English language to function successfully in the classroom.

“I’m interested in finding out how language in this group of children changes over time in both languages,” Rojas said. “Are there differences in language growth when they are in school versus when they are on summer vacation? Is the shape of the growth the same or different in both languages? And how does language growth differ among subpopulations of ELL’s?”

Rojas says that studying the complexities in language growth and discovering what best predicts these changes could help identify the children with speech language disorders who will be the most vulnerable in the classroom.

He was recently recognized by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) with an Outstanding Contribution Award for an article he co-authored about assessment and intervention with (Spanish-English) second-language learners. The award recognizes an article that has made a significant contribution to speech-language pathology.

Rojas also is interested in using eye tracking technology, including pupil dilation, to learn how bilingual infants process and acquire words in both languages.

Syrika received her PhD in communicative disorders from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include phonological acquisition and she is specifically studying the acoustic and perceptual characteristics of consonant clusters in Modern Greek.

“My research to date has shown that looking at acquisition patterns in a language other than English can help us tease apart aspects that are language-general versus language-specific,” Syrika said.

At Callier, Syrika is expanding her research to study the articulatory-kinematic properties of consonant clusters in different languages, including Greek, English and Spanish. She is conducting a pilot study to examine how people who speak these native languages coordinate speech movements during the production of consonant clusters.

“The long-term goal is to create a database of kinematic and acoustic data on consonant cluster productions in multiple languages and language families, which we can potentially extend to speakers with disorders of speech articulation,” Syrika said.

She also is interested in studying the acoustic characteristics in children with cochlear implants who speak different languages.

Dr. Christine Dollaghan is the faculty mentor for Rojas, and Dr. William Katz is the faculty mentor for Syrika.

Dr. Raul Rojas and Dr. Asimina Syrika will work closely with their faculty mentors and use the resources of one or more of the 13 laboratories housed at the Callier Center.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].