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Department of communication sciences and disorders and USC Speech and Hearing Research Center prep for move to Close-Hipp building

September 4, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Established in 1972, the communication sciences and disorders (COMD) department has a long history at the University of South Carolina. Along with what was then known as the School of Public Health, COMD (then the department of communicative disorders) joined the College of Public Health and Associated Health Programs when it was established in 1974.

Several renamings and many years later, COMD has become one of the most integral pillars of the Arnold School of Public Health. The department offers two master’s degree programs (accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology) that prepare approximately 65 graduates per year for careers in speech-language pathology. Its growing doctoral program includes 10 students—clinical scientists who are prepared to advance the field through teaching, research and service.

In 2018, COMD’s 27 full-time faculty members had $21 million in competitive research funding to study speech production/perception, hearing, language organization in the brain, language and literacy development and disorders, and fragile X syndrome. These researchers work closely alongside highly skilled clinical instructors who treat clients and supervise students learning to treat patients at the department’s USC Speech and Hearing Research Center.

This move will bring all of our faculty together in the same space with the Center, soon-to-be-called the Montgomery Clinic, for the first time.

-Kenn Apel, COMD professor and chair

For nearly 50 years, the Center has provided quality diagnostic and treatment programs for individuals of all ages in the greater metropolitan area of Columbia, S.C. Because the Center is housed within the COMD department, it always benefits from being informed by the latest research in the field.

Despite this close relationship, space constraints and other logistical barriers have prevented the entire department and Center from being together on campus. Over the years, the department has been located in various buildings on or near campus, and the Center has moved around as well. For example, before the current downtown rental space, it was located at St. Julian Place, three miles away from campus

For the past several years, the Center and most of the COMD faculty have worked out of a rented space on the corner of Lady and Sumter streets in downtown Columbia. As of June, 2019, the department will have a new forever home at the Close-Hipp building on the USC campus. With this move, the Center will be renamed the Montgomery Speech, Hearing, and Language Clinic.

“This move will bring all of our faculty together in the same space with the Center, soon-to-be-called the Montgomery Clinic, for the first time,” says COMD chair Kenn Apel. “It will also provide an additional 4,000 square feet for research and clinical work in a permanent space we can call our own.”   

Specific benefits include more space for students to learn, prepare for their clients, study together, etc.; additional and different size clinical rooms to meet individual client needs; a welcoming and professional waiting area for clients and their families; additional research lab space for conducting projects funded by federal and other competitive grants; designated waiting areas for research participants; dedicated rooms for research testing; a centralized area for department administrative services; space for department/faculty meetings and distance education advising.

We are so pleased to support this high-quality department and its unique programs. Everyone likes and respects one another, and it’s a really great environment.

-Al Montgomery, COMD research professor on the Montgomerys' decision to make the lead gift to make this move possible 

The move has been made possible through the generosity of Al and Marcia Montgomery [pictured at left above with COMD chair Kenn Apel (center right) and Center/Clinic director Danielle Varnedoe], for whom the Center is being renamed. Al, a COMD research professor, and Marcia, a retired clinical instructor, made the lead gift for this move in order to advance the department they joined in 1988 and the field to which they have dedicated their careers [Learn more about the Montgomerys’ COMD careers].

“We were both raised by educated and charitable people,” says Al. “Our parents set examples for us in terms of helping other people, and they were especially dedicated to higher education.”  

Al’s grandfather was a scholar who could read ancient Hebrew and Greek, and Al’s parents both attended college in the early part of the 20th century—his father becoming a chemist and his mother earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in bacteriology. Marcia’s grandparents emigrated from Scotland to settle in Canada and then moved to Michigan with her grandfather becoming a chemist and the first person in their family to attend college. Marcia’s father was a metallurgist.   

During their many years with the COMD department, the Montgomerys witnessed the various moves and separations of faculty members and the Center. “All of this time, we’ve been wishing that everyone could be together as we’ve seen with other programs that benefit from having the faculty and clinic in the same place,” says Marcia. “We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to help the department come together on campus, so we consider this to be a wonderful investment.”

“We are so pleased to support this high-quality department and its unique programs,” adds Al. “Everyone likes and respects one another, and it’s a really great environment.”

The Montgomerys’ lead gift has made the move to the Close-Hipp building and its associate construction costs possible. Additional support is still needed to outfit each space with equipment and furnishings to make education, research and clinical treatment possible. Learn more about Giving Opportunities, the Montgomery Clinic, and construction progress with our COMD Move updates.