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Dr. Ramesh Kaipa is the head of Oklahoma State University's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

OSU’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Department has large impact

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Media Contact: Jordan Bishop | Communications Specialist | 405-744-9782 |

The president of the United States of America stutters. 

For years, problems with speaking or hearing have been neglected. But because of a shift in public perception, with even Joe Biden admitting he has a communications disorder, more people have started to seek help instead of trying to ignore it.

In the past, someone who stutters or is hard of hearing might have thought there was no treatment for them. 

Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Ramesh Kaipa is happy to say that is no longer the case. He said that just because you have a communications disorder, doesn’t mean you cannot be successful. 

As a result, the research into these areas has grown and clinics have sprouted up all around the country to help people finally learn to control their disorder.

“We have started to realize that there are more people who are forthcoming and are starting to seek services,” said Kaipa, the head of OSU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CDIS).

With the rise in patients, the demand for speech pathologists nationwide has continued to grow. Kaipa arrived in Stillwater 10 years ago and has seen the number of students grow exponentially.

CDIS has come a long way since its founding as a single speech pathology course in the Department of Theatre in the 1960s. Professor Vivia Locke started the course and supported it in its early years.

Over time, it became its own department and has grown so much that it now fills almost an entire floor of the Social Sciences and Humanities Building. 

Professors have multiple labs including a sociophonetics lab to study accents and a motor speech lab that looks into how your lips function. The OSU Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic has several therapy rooms, along with a new sensory room funded by the Guthrie Scottish Rite. 

The sensory room is vital in working with children, who are able to learn to control their disorder if they are helped early in life. Kaipa said that while most communication disorders can’t be completely fixed, helping people build up their ability to communicate is just as important. 

“We really want to help people and help kids communicate better,” Kaipa said. “I hope people realize that. There are some conditions that you can’t outgrow. The difference is that we are dealing with a disorder and not a disease. Diseases are pathogenic. You can cure it. Disorders cannot be cured. They can be managed. We fall in the rehabilitation area of health sciences where you can manage, you can get them better and the eventual goal is to mainstream them into society. So that they start leading normal lives.”

CDIS works with children as young as 10 months up to Parkinsons’ patients who are 80-90 years old and helps with a variety of disorders, from swallowing to fluency in reading and writing and more.

Through a partnership with OSU-Tulsa, CDIS works with people who have aphasia — the inability to verbally express or write, most commonly caused by a stroke or neurological illness. And CDIS also started offering a Cowboy Reading Camp this year that completely filled up.

Dr. Peter Richtsmeier, who studies phonetics, said the department’s work with children is really inspiring.

“We are interested in speech and language development,” Richtsmeier said. “We do a lot of things where we try to make sure the kids have fun, and we want to know how most kids learn to be good, accurate speakers.”

Students in the degree program work hands-on with clients, which aids them as they enter a high-demand career field.

“I don't know one person who is finding it challenging to get a job in this field,” Kaipa said. “The retention rate in the profession exceeds 95 percent because people love what they do. They tend to want to be in the field for life. There are other professions where the burnout rate is exceedingly high, and people want to switch their careers — not speech language pathologists and audiologists, though. I am really proud of that.”

While students primarily earn their experience in the clinic, OSU has also started an outreach program at Stillwater Public Schools and Perry Public Schools to help on-site.

The clinic is available to anyone and includes a heavily discounted fee for OSU students, faculty and staff. 

“We are a land-grant institution so outreach is a big part of our department,” Kaipa said. “We truly honor that in addition to our teaching and research.”

Kaipa hopes to keep adding more services, such as a voice clinic and a mobile swallowing station. Also with recent mandates from the state legislature requiring teachers to be trained in teaching dyslexic children, Kaipa hopes to start a literacy clinic.

“That is a problem that has not been addressed,” Kaipa said. “There are a lot of kids who drop out by third grade and a major reason is their literacy skills are lagging behind.”

The clinic isn’t the only place he wants to keep expanding. Currently, the University of Oklahoma has the only doctorate program in speech language pathology. OSU only offers up to master’s level courses.

Although being a speech language pathologist and audiologist is a rewarding career and OSU consistently churns out high-level clinicians, Kaipa wants to see OSU have the ability to develop doctors who can do more research into the field.

“The profession needs more clinical researchers and professors so they can train other people,” Kaipa said. “Hopefully we can get a doctoral program. OU is the only one that offers a Ph.D. in the state. So hopefully we can get one and share the burden and graduate more people with Ph.D.s.” 

CDIS faculty members conduct research in all types of areas. Dr. Roha Kaipa studies the ability to learn different languages, and the state’s only licensed fluency specialist, Dr. John Tetnowski, runs the research lab on stuttering.

In OSU’s sociophonetic lab, Dr. Valerie Freeman looks at the effect someone’s accent has on how they are perceived, as well as teaching students how deaf people are perceived.

“It is cool to wear glasses, but what about hearing aids?” Kaipa said. “It isn’t viewed as the same thing. How many people are going to post on Facebook about getting a new hearing aid? That is what Dr. Freeman is addressing.”

Kaipa sees the impact that CDIS has on both his students and the clients who come in every single day. He looks forward to the continued growth of the department as a place where someone can seek life-changing help. 

Communication can be hard for a lot of people, as even he had an issue with it when starting the profession. As a student in India, Kaipa was a quiet talker, but he realized that if he wanted to succeed and help people as a speech language pathologist, he would have to learn to work on it. 

“Once I started taking classes and getting hands-on experience, I knew I was meant to be in this profession,” Kaipa said. “I feel thrilled, happy and gratified to help people communicate.”

For more stories on the CDIS Department:

A look at OSU's CDIS Research

Information on OSU's Clinic

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