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This month, we caught up with Geralyn Schulz and discovered that her role as associate dean for research at Columbian College is a natural extension of her insatiable curiosity. Since arriving at GW in 2000, Schulz has been chair of the Speech and Hearing Sciences Department, traveled to Australia on a Fulbright Senior Scholarship, and published myriad articles on Parkinson’s disease and other adult neuromotor disorders. An accomplished, passionate scholar, it follows that she extends her enthusiasm and determination to her fellow faculty members.
As associate dean for research at Columbian College, tell us about your typical work day.
My job description is ‘Do what it takes to facilitate research and scholarship of our faculty.’ So that means I do a little bit of everything: help faculty find funding, work with them on grant proposals, review drafts, help them through the processing of applications, and so forth. I also oversee the Columbian College Facilitating Fund begun by Dean Peg Barratt. It provides internal funding to assist faculty who are between grants, or just starting out on a new research initiative.
I also work with Nam Ly, the Columbian College pre-awards specialist, who helps faculty upload grants and manage budgets. And, I liaise with Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa’s office and others across GW who are involved in research. I sit on several University research committees, and am involved with university wide initiatives such as autism, global women’s institute, and global security.
In 2006, you received a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award and traveled to the University of Queensland, Australia, to explore treatment methods to assist brain damaged individuals regain their speech. What was the most rewarding part of this experience? What results did your research work yield?
In the five months I was there, I looked at a method for visual bio-feedback of lip, jaw, and tongue movements. I used a machine in the Queensland lab which is similar to one that I have in my lab here that can monitor those movements in three dimensions.
I also worked with Dr. Deborah Theodoros implementing a speech therapy technique developed by Dr. Lorrainee Ramig for patients with Parkinson’s called the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment, which involves getting a patient to constantly talk louder. When a person has Parkinson’s disease, it scales everything down movement-wise. The result is that their movements become smaller including those involved in producing speech and their voice becomes softer. A patient may think that he or she is speaking at normal conversational intensity, but to others in the room it sounds like they are mumbling.
For this type of therapy, we ask patients to speak increasingly louder. This request is easier to understand and act on than if we spoke to them in physiological terms such as ‘constrict your vocal chords and take a bigger breath and move your articulators more.’ The idea is to recalibrate the patient’s internal concept of sound and effort levels in their speaking so that they understand that what feels like shouting to them, is actually speaking at a normal audible level. It was rewarding to see the patients ‘get’ the therapy and improve, mainly because the treatment was easy for them to do and understand conceptually.
Describe your current research and its significance within your discipline.
I recently presented at the Glasgow Second World Parkinson Congress. My co-investigators at the National Institutes of Health assessed a well-accepted form of therapy for Parkinson’s disease called “deep brain stimulation”. Bi-lateral pulses of electricity are administered to certain parts of the brain on a schedule, kind of like a pacemaker. Research has found that while the stimulation is good for improving limb movement, stimulation in the left hemisphere of the brain, which controls speech, can hinder improvement of the voice and speech problems but improves the limb movements in Parkinson’s patients. As we gain more insight into the neurophysiology of speech, we can adjust the settings in the left hemisphere of the brain to help the patient improve in both speech and limb movements.
What advice do you have for students interested in speech language pathology?
First, if you want to be a practicing clinician, you need a healthy curiosity and to get your master’s. An undergraduate degree in speech-language pathology is helpful, but to be a clinician you need to be well-rounded. Speech is multi-disciplinary by nature, so learn as much as you can about everything but especially about the brain.
Second, speech language pathology is a field in which you will always be able to find a job. It’s rich in terms of different focuses—children, adults, autism, Parkinson’s disease—and it’s fascinating.
What is the one thing about you or your work that would most surprise people?
Well, one, I would move my entire office to Australia if I could. I love it there. And, two, I started out wanting to be a vet. I’m a Dr. Doolittle of sorts, I love animals and out where I live the deer, fox, and turtles come to visit me often.