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Arnold School of Public Health


Victoria Henbest receives CAPCSD Ph.D. Scholarship to support dissertation research

June 7, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

“The field of communication sciences and disorders prepares students to assist individuals with the most basic of human rights—the ability to communicate,” says Victoria Henbest, a Ph.D. candidate in the Arnold School of Public Health’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD). “Helping individuals learn to effectively communicate is the most rewarding experience.”

As a social determinant of health, the ability to communicate (oral and written) influences access to healthcare, social support, career opportunities, and many other factors that impact the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations. The COMD field plays a key role in identifying and addressing language and literacy challenges.

Henbest will contribute to the advancement of language and literacy through her dissertation research with support from a Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders Ph.D. Scholarship. Her project will investigate the linguistic awareness skills that contribute to success with reading and spelling in children who have autism spectrum disorder—an area where research is critically needed.

The field of communication sciences and disorders prepares students to assist individuals with the most basic of human rights—the ability to communicate.

-Victoria Henbest, COMD Ph.D. Candidate

“Although we have substantial information on the role linguistic awareness skills play in children who do not have autism spectrum disorder, these skills have not been thoroughly investigated in children who do. This is important because children with autism make up a growing number of children who receive special education services in public schools,” says Henbest. “Thus, more research in this area is urgently needed so we can best support these students’ literacy skills.” 

The scholarship program is open to all Ph.D. students who have risen to the candidate level of their accredited doctoral programs. By providing dissertation support, the Council aims to facilitate recruitment, education and retention of faculty and students to meet the public need for researchers and clinicians in the COMD field.

“Learning to read, spell, and write are some of the most amazing feats of children as they progress through their school-age years, and for those who struggle with these skills, everyday life is a challenge,” says Henbest. “Working with and on behalf of children is the highlight of my life and being a part of a team of researchers and clinicians who work diligently to support these children and their language and literacy skills is my life’s work.”

Henbest earned her first speech-language pathology degree from the University of Arkansas in the same town (Fayetteville) where she was born and raised. After graduation, she immediately enrolled in a master’s program in speech-language pathology at Missouri State University. For the next five years, Henbest worked as a speech-language pathologist at an early childhood center outside of Springfield, Mo.

Working with and on behalf of children is the highlight of my life and being a part of a team of researchers and clinicians who work diligently to support these children and their language and literacy skills is my life’s work.

-Victoria Henbest, COMD Ph.D. Candidate

She chose the Arnold School’s COMD program for two reasons. One reason was the chance to investigate children’s language and literacy skills from the perspective of a speech-language pathologist. The other reason was the opportunity to work with Professor and Chair Kenn Apel, whose research on reading and spelling she had learned about during her master’s program.

“I completed a thesis project under the direction of Dr. Julie Masterson, who has been doing research with Dr. Apel for many years,” says Henbest. “I was immediately intrigued by their method of analyzing children’s spelling errors to gain insight into children’s linguistic awareness skills, and when I learned about this spelling analysis system in a course with Dr. Masterson, I was hooked.”

Henbest plans to become a literacy researcher at a university, conducting clinically-relevant studies on the language and literacy skills of children from special populations, such as those with autism or Down syndrome—areas that have been largely understudied. She is particularly interested in emergent literacy, the skills that develop during the preschool years prior to formal reading instruction. In preparation for this career, Henbest has learned from the best. 

Dr. Apel has been pivotal as my mentor during my Ph.D. program. I could not ask for a better mentor, and I am honored to have the opportunity to study under his direction.

-Victoria Henbest, COMD Ph.D. Candidate

In Apel’s Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab, Henbest has participated in studying students’ knowledge of the meaning of affixes (e.g., -ness, re-, un, -ly) and its relations to reading and spelling outcomes. They have also worked with researchers in the psychology department to develop stimuli for a project that involves capturing the profiles of individuals with fragile X syndrome. Together, Apel and Henbest modified their measures of orthographic knowledge (i.e., knowledge of how speech is translated to print) to be used in this research.

“Dr. Apel has been pivotal as my mentor during my Ph.D. program. I could not ask for a better mentor, and I am honored to have the opportunity to study under his direction,” Henbest says. “Not only is he among the elite of literacy researchers, he is a phenomenal human being. As my mentor, he has provided me with just the right amount of support to help me succeed while simultaneously allowing and encouraging my independence. He is truly caring and I have no doubt that he genuinely wants me to succeed in all areas of my life. I have learned so much from him.”

In addition to the manuscripts Henbest has co-authored with Apel, she has served as lead author on papers such as an overview of recent evidence on the best ways to teach children how to read words. She also developed a manuscript based on a Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) grant she was awarded from the USC Office of the Vice President for Research.

The COMD program at UofSC offers the very best in literacy education for both master’s and Ph.D. students, and I would encourage any student who is committed to academic excellence, desires to be challenged and think critically, and who aims to help others, to consider a graduate degree in communications sciences and disorders.

-Victoria Henbest, COMD Ph.D. Candidate

Henbest has also learned from the other faculty members who comprise COMD’s growing literacy program: Suzanne Adlof, Lesly Wade-Woolley, and Krystal Werfel. “They investigate different aspects of reading, spelling, and writing, and they are phenomenal,” says Henbest. “The COMD program at UofSC offers the very best in literacy education for both master’s and Ph.D. students, and I would encourage any student who is committed to academic excellence, desires to be challenged and think critically, and who aims to help others, to consider a graduate degree in communications sciences and disorders.”  


Related:

Arnold School’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders grows literacy expertise