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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Victoria Henbest

February 3, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Victoria Henbest got into the field of communication sciences and disorders (COMD) because she considers the ability to communicate to be the most basic of human rights. After defending her dissertation in December (her degree will be conferred in May of this year), Henbest is officially ready to contribute to advancing this human right as an expert in the field.

Henbest’s diploma for her Ph.D. in COMD may not be in hand yet, but she’s been a faculty member in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of South Alabama for over a year. With an agreement to serve as an instructor for the 18 months between joining the university in January 2019 and transitioning to a tenure-track position after receiving her diploma this May, Henbest has already gotten a jump start on teaching. She felt well prepared for this role through the teaching experience she gained as a doctoral student. In parallel, she worked on her dissertation project, which was supported by a  Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders Ph.D. Scholarship.

I believe that the Arnold School, and specifically my mentor, Dr. Apel, have provided me with unmatched opportunities to be involved in research.

-Victoria Henbest, communication sciences and disorders doctoral candidate

“I had a really positive gut feeling about how I would fit in with the department,” Henbest says of her decision to accept the appointment. “Also, my career goals were really well aligned with the requirements for tenure and promotion here at South Alabama – the perfect mix of teaching and research.”

She also had the opportunity to work with yet another nationally known expert in her focus area of child language: Brenda Beverly. Henbest had already hit the mentor jackpot twice. During her master’s program at Missouri State University, she worked with Julie Masterson, who then connected Henbest with her long-time collaborator, UofSC COMD chair Kenn Apel.

“I was immediately intrigued by their method of analyzing children’s spelling errors to gain insight into children’s linguistic awareness skills,” Henbest says of Masterson and Apel.

Through her doctoral program, she went on to conduct research alongside Apel in his Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab, which led to Henbest’s involvement in research and other projects across the department, school, university and country. These collaborations resulted in several manuscripts (three already published with Henbest as first author) for the Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellow, likely setting her apart from other job applicants.

“I believe that the Arnold School, and specifically my mentor, Dr. Apel, have provided me with unmatched opportunities to be involved in research,” Henbest says. These experiences also set the stage for her to develop her own specific research interests.

“I am primarily interested in examining the effectiveness of interventions aimed at supporting reading and spelling for children with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome,” says Henbest, who continues to collaborate with colleagues at UofSC and other universities while also preparing to launch her own projects. “Right now, I am particularly interested in better understanding the spelling skills of children with autism spectrum disorder – an area that has been largely understudied.”

Working with Beverly, Henbest will be in good company as she works to remedy this gap in the field. Their overlapping research and clinical interests in child language and autism offer the perfect opportunity for collaboration.

Henbest's work in the field is already being recognized, as evidenced by invitations such as one made by the Autism Society of Alabama and University of South Alabama Regional Autism Network to speak at the Autism Matters Conference in March

“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.”


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

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