American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Iris A. Johnson

Associate Professor, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology

Tennessee State University

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language Pathology

Iris Johnson 1999    PhD, The University of Memphis
            Speech and Language Development and Disorders

1995    MA, South Carolina State University
            Speech-Language Pathology

1991    BA, South Carolina State University
            Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology

I chose an academic/research career because:
I could reach more clients by teaching students to be competent speech-language pathologists, researchers, and lifelong learners.

What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar, and/or researcher?
I am an associate professor at Tennessee State University. TSU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in speech-language pathology. Though our primary mission is teaching, research is encouraged. One of my secondary responsibilities is recruitment of students into the Department of Speech Pathology. With that being an additional priority, I just completed a college (of Health Sciences) wide survey investigating retention factors. I am also a NSSLHA advisor; therefore, I organize numerous community activities in which students participate. I was awarded a service learning grant which enabled me to institute a service learning component in my undergraduate language development class. In the role of teacher, I am particularly proud of the colloquium series (a scholarly discussion) I organize and my Inside the Speakers Studio-a staged conversation involving graduate students and families/individuals with disabilities. Finally, I teach several courses via the Web and was awarded a mini-grant to incorporate a hybrid service delivery component in my graduate language disorders class.

How did you get to the position you have today?
I am the product of an undergraduate and graduate education at a historically black university (South Carolina State University). My doctoral degree is from The University of Memphis, a university that is nestled quite snuggly in a city that is predominately African American. All of my degrees have been in speech pathology, and my dissertation topic related to literacy and culturally/linguistically different (CLD) populations. I am at Tennessee State University because I have an allegiance to my African American community and institutions which were originally instituted to serve CLD populations.

What were the key factors in your academic/research career decision(s)?
Considering that I come from a family of educators, teaching is intrinsic to me. I did not want to go the normal primary/secondary education route. My area/population of interest is articulation and language disorders in preschool/school-aged children. I felt that I could make the biggest impact with my population of interest by teaching students and creating clinicians. The best place to make the biggest difference is on the university level.

What do you like most about your career?
I love working with the students the most. Each year, there are new students, new challenges, and new things to learn (on my part as well as theirs). Each year, I take students to the ASHA Convention and NBASLH (National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing) conference. My goal is to expose them to the huge world of speech pathology; they often inaccurately view our field as a small, disconnected entity. Upon returning from these conventions, students have more of a global, accurate view and renewed thirst for knowledge. I am most definitely a teacher at heart-my classroom is borderless when it comes to my students and the delivery of the content.

What do you like least about your career?
It is extremely difficult to teach, research, and serve. They are not viewed equally at TSU-though we are expected to complete all three.

Who are your heroes/heroines?
There are several people I view as my heroes: Dr. Harold Powell, Dr. Corine Meyers Jennings, Dr. Thalia Coleman (all in speech pathology), Dr. Theresa Okwumubua (community leader in Memphis), and my mother-Wilhelmina P. Johnson. They all gave me the courage to keep moving forward. Let's say they were the wind beneath my wings.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate or master's student who expressed an interest in an academic/research career in communication sciences and disorders?
I would tell them to go for it. First (and foremost) have a specific area of interest and, if possible, complete some type of research project during your undergraduate or graduate career. Also, I would certainly encourage them to research the program, establish a dialogue early on with their potential university mentor, and make sure there is an established record of doctoral students actually graduating.

What was the best thing about your PhD program?
The best thing about my doctoral "initiation rites" was the other doctoral students. In speech pathology, our group's moniker was "The Scholarly Sisterhood of Lament." Also at the University of Memphis, I was very active in the Black Graduate Student Association. The relationships forged and ideas exchanged caused me to grow in many more ways than all the classes I took and research conducted.

If you did your PhD program or your early career years all over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I am glad that I went straight through from master's to doctorate. I was a school SLP for 4 years while I worked on my master's degree. I did not yet have my CCCs when working on my doctorate, and at times I wished that I had, but one of my mentors (Dr. Okwumubua) had numerous community-related grants - Therefore, I always had access to other opportunities. These community-related opportunities also provided me the access to the participants included in my dissertation!

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
I live by the motto "you must secure your mask before helping another." I always find time for myself. I dance, exercise (I have done four half-marathons and rollerblade any chance I get) and do event planning/decoration. Also, I laugh loudly, heartily, and often.

What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
Only God knows. Definitely somewhere living a life filled with purpose and laughter.

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