American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Travis T. Threats

Professor and Chair, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Saint Louis University

Certificate of Clinical Competence, Speech-Language Pathology

Travis Threats 1990 PhD, Northwestern University
Communication Disorders

1984 MA, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Communication Disorders

1982 BS, Kansas State University
Communication Disorders

I chose an academic/research career because:
I wanted to be able to influence the practice and the direction of the field as a whole.

What do you do in your career as a teacher, scholar, and/or researcher?
I am Professor and Chair of my department at Saint Louis University. Saint Louis University is a research university. Our program offers both bachelor's and master's degrees in speech-language pathology. I have been at Saint Louis University since 1997 and was hired as an untenured Assistant Professor. I have only been Chair of my department since 2005.

Before I became Chair, my primary responsibilities were teaching, scholarly work, and some limited clinical supervision of students. Because I work at a Catholic Jesuit university, there is an emphasis on three stated equal aspects of being a professor: scholarship, teaching, and service. Different universities that I have been associated with have had different priorities, but this emphasis on the use of scholarship for the betterment of humankind and effective teaching fits in best with why I became a college professor. I have taught courses in cognitive-communication disorders, aphasia, motor speech disorders, dysphagia, and neurological bases for communication.

Since I became Chair, my teaching load is less, with teaching only the cognitive-communication class and the aphasia class now. My administrative responsibilities comprise 50% of my time now. These responsibilities include oversight over departmental budget, liaison for my department to the higher administration of the university, evaluation and direction of the faculty and staff, assignment of resources, oversight over academic and clinical training of undergraduate and master's level students, and providing scholarly and administrative leadership for the department.

My primary scholarly work has been with the World Health Organization (WHO) in the development and utilization of the 2001 International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF). I began my work with the (WHO and the ICF in 1997 when the beta-1 version of the document was published. In 1999, I was named by ASHA to be its representative liaison to the WHO for the development of the ICF. The ICF is a classification system that could improve the understanding of the effects of health conditions on the functioning of individuals and populations. The ICF can be used for statistical purposes (e.g., population studies), for research (e.g., outcome studies), for clinical needs (e.g., vocational assessment), and for social policy development (e.g., social security planning). WHO plans for this classification system to be used as a complement or partner with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Only by looking at both the ICD and the ICF can a comprehensive picture of the health of a population or an individual person be determined. It is being actively considered by the federal government for all federal and state health records, by private insurance firms, and to guide research in order to be able to capture and ultimately improve functional health status. In addition, it is being actively implemented in countries around the world.

I have worked with ASHA committees on the ICF being included as the framework for the field in the Scope of Practice for Speech-Language Pathology, Scope of Practice for Audiology, and the Preferred Practice Patterns for the Profession of Speech-Language Pathology. Since the ICF is in the scope of practice documents for both speech-language pathology and audiology, it is being used to guide other documents done by ASHA. I am currently the Senior Consultant for the American Psychological Association (APA) and the WHO for the development of the clinical manual for the ICF, entitled the Procedural Manual and Guide for Standardized Application of the ICF: A Manual for Health Professionals. This book is intended for use internationally by professionals such as therapists, social workers, physicians, and nurses to ensure the reliable and valid use of the ICF. Also included in my Senior Consultant role is being the liaison for the APA for other professional organizations, including the other therapy organizations, the American Medical Association, and the American Nursing Association.

My other two scholarly interests are in evidence-based practice and health care ethics. I also have published and presented concerning these two areas. I currently serve on ASHA's Advisory Committee for Evidence-Based Practice, and the Academy of Neurologic Communication Disorders and Science's Ethics Committee.

My work is highly rewarding and personally fulfilling because it allows me to work toward improvement in the lives of persons with communication disorders. On the research side, I have been afforded the privilege of working with people from around the world and those in vastly different fields from my own, such as epidemiologists, health care economists, experts in medical informatics, government and private health care administrators, and disability rights advocates. My scholarship in these areas of expertise has allowed me to present by myself and with colleagues all over the world including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Germany, and Belgium. I also have been able to talk with international audiences held in the United States. For example, I am a consultant for a grant from the U.S. Department of State that gave me the honor of speaking to a group of disability advocates from Afghanistan about how the use of the ICF might improve the conditions of those with disabilities in their country. On the teaching side, I get to teach and influence future speech-language pathologists. I feel morally responsible to teach effectively since all of my students (approximately 200 master's students just since I have been at Saint Louis University) will see many clients over the course of their careers. When I see long-past students and they tell me they think of what I taught them almost every day in their work, I am further convinced that I have made the right career choice for me.

How did you get to the position you have today? What were the key factors in your academic/research career decision(s)?
I went directly from my master's program to a doctoral program. After I finished my course work in the doctoral program, I started working full-time as a speech-language pathologist. My first job was with children at an Easter Seals outpatient center. Then I worked in a nursing home, rehabilitation hospital, and an acute care hospital. For the last year of my doctoral studies, I held a faculty position as an ABD (all but dissertation) at Northern Illinois University. Thus, when I finished my PhD, I had several years of clinical experience and, of course, my CFY completed. After completing my PhD, I stayed at Northern Illinois University for 1 year. I then became Clinic Director and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at Cleveland State University and stayed in that job for 3 years. My next position was a split position as head of speech pathology and audiology at University Hospitals of Cleveland and also as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Case Western Reserve University. In addition, I was an Adjunct Assistant Professor in two departments in the Case Medical School, those being the Departments of Neurology and Otolaryngology. Before I came to Saint Louis University, I worked for 1 year as Regional Rehabilitation Director for the state of Missouri for Life Care Centers of America, a private nursing home chain.

Looking back, all of my experiences positively influenced me both being a college professor and an administrator. My clinical experiences were essential for helping me be a good instructor and also my choice of research interests. My previous administrative experiences were helpful in terms of assuming the role of Chair of my department.

When I chose in high school to become a speech-language pathologist, it was to become a PhD-level one. Thus, I never had the two as separate career goals. This decision was heavily influenced by the fact that I have a younger brother with autism. In the time and area where I grew up, work with children with autism was not well-developed. My parents were very frustrated by this lack of a plan for my brother, and thus they started enrolling him in various university-run grants. In addition, they enrolled him for speech-language therapy in the Speech and Hearing Clinic at the University of Kansas in Kansas City, Kansas, which is where I grew up. My brother made his most significant improvements under these programs, and I became convinced that the cutting-edge work was being done in university settings. Obviously, since then, I have come to realize the cutting-edge work done by master's level speech-language pathologists, but this early exposure to speech-language pathology at a university level had a definite effect. My initial career decision was reinforced as an undergraduate at Kansas State University, which I still use as a model for being a caring and supportive faculty member for students.

My childhood exposure to the pervasive devastating effects of a communication disorder (in this case secondary to autism) has had the most effect on my choice of research areas. I saw how the medical system and educational system did not adequately and comprehensively address the needs of persons with disabilities, and thus I have chosen to look at broad systems issues such as addressed by the ICF instead of looking at only specific aspects of a specific disorder. By being in academic circles and also having experience with administration, I thought that I could best affect these changes.

What do you like most about your career?
There is a tie for "most" on this question. One of the best things about my career is meeting and learning from different people. I learn from interacting with other professionals from around the globe, from my clients, and from my students. It is among the most enriching professions in the world. A tie for best thing is being able to feel that I am making a positive difference in the world.

What do you like least about your career?
The possible downfall of having so many options, so many people to meet, and so many possible things to do is that one can often feel torn. One cannot do everything, but this type of job could have you trying to do it because there are really no limits or a point where you can say, "Well, that's all done"-there is always more. In terms of being Chair, what I miss most is not teaching as much.

Who are your heroes/heroines?
All of my life my main heroes have been my family. My grandfather and grandmother, Matthew and Mae Bertha Carter, have two books written about them and my aunts and uncles. One is for adults and is written by Constance Curry and entitled Silver Rights, and the other is for children written by Doreen Rappapport and is entitled The School Is Not White! A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s in Mississippi, to get around mandatory school desegregation, black parents were offered to send their children to the "white" school if they wanted. In all of Sunflower County, my eight aunts and uncles were the only ones who took up that offer and were the only black children in the school for many years. They, as was my mother who was the oldest of 13 children, were sharecroppers-which was really just a legal extension of slavery. As a result of their actions, my grandparents were kicked off the plantation, shot at, threatened constantly, and no one would employ them, or rent to them. My grandparents, who never attended real schools but just to third grade in church schools, fought back, and triumphed, as did all of my uncles and aunts who now have very successful careers. They followed politics closely, even when they could not vote, and taught all their children they would be the last generation of Carters to spend their lives on a plantation. My grandmother was a gifted orator and spoke all across the country before her death, including a book tour with Silver Rights. What they taught me was that systems can be changed for the better if one has faith and keeps focused on doing what needs to be done. In a similar vein, my parents, Johnny and Edna Threats, also taught me the value of fighting the good cause with their efforts to do the best for my brother, Kenneth.

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?
Look to see what inspires you. It is difficult to get a PhD, not primarily due to only academic rigor, but because it does not provide you as much specific direction as one's previous schooling, and thus one can easily become lost and adrift. In terms of what inspires you, it may be a topic or a person or even a client. If you feel so inspired, do not be intimidated that you could never be your professors. Remember, they once knew no more than you-they worked long and hard to be that picture of them you see today. Once you have found your area of inspiration, seek out mentors who will help you get where you want.

What was the best thing about your PhD program?
Being able to take courses outside of my major was crucial to my successful PhD experience. In my case, my interest was in adult neurogenic communication disorders, and thus in addition to doctoral level communication disorders classes, I took courses from the psychology department such as neuropsychology assessment and psychopathology of aging.

If you did your PhD program or your early career years all over again, what would you do differently?
Although I may not have always felt as such during my program, looking back I cannot say that I would have done anything differently.

How do you find balance between your professional activities and your personal life? What do you do to relax?
Any professional job can overwhelm you and take over all aspects of your life. How you handle your life is up to you. An academic position can be demanding, especially at a research-intensive university when one is trying to get tenure. However, compared to other professions, it actually has more flexibility than most. For example, if you just want to get out of your office, you can take an hour-long walk in the middle of the day. You have things that you have to do in a given week, month, or year, but you can schedule your life as you like. One colleague of mine here hates mornings and so does not get here until noon every day. Now, he does work until 2 a.m. sometimes, but that is his personal lifestyle choice. I make time for my wife and children as well as activities I enjoy, including reading, listening to jazz, and sports. I do so much "other" that I often joke that I have to come to work to get some rest!

What will you be doing 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
If you had asked me 10 years ago to predict what I would be doing now, I would have not predicted accurately except to say that I would be in an academic setting. Currently, I plan to continue my current work with getting the ICF to be used not only across the field but across all of the helping professions in order to better provide intervention to those we serve. I also want to continue promoting evidence-based practice and a deeper examination of the ethical issues involved in our field.

Share This Page

Print This Page