Iris A. Johnson
Associate Professor, Department of Speech Pathology and
Tennessee State University
Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language
1999 PhD, The University of Memphis
Speech and Language Development and Disorders
1995 MA, South Carolina State University
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
What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Only God knows. Definitely somewhere living a life filled with
purpose and laughter.