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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Reaching Out

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Reaching Out

The Research that Takes Place at Minnesota State Mankato Often Benefits Those Beyond the University's Walls

by Rachael Hanel ’97 ’04

Reaching OutType the word "stuttering" into an Internet search engine and you'll find a site created by Judy Kuster, a Minnesota State University, Mankato professor in Speech, Hearing, and Rehabilitation Services.

Besides maintaining the site, which includes information about research, therapy and support organizations, Kuster has also coordinated an on–line conference that connects consumers with professionals in the field for the past eight years. People from 116 countries have participated in the conference.

Kuster is part of a larger department that provides a vast array of hearing and language services to both adults and children in the community. That department, in turn, is part of the larger campus community committed to using the University's resources and research to better the lives of people in the region. Faculty, staff and students are dedicated to detecting harmful levels of radon, advising politicians and citizens on the importance of keeping our waterways clean, providing rehabilitation for cardiac patients and dozens of other projects.

Weather Related

At the WALTER Weather Lab, for example, students and faculty are busy applying their research outside of the classroom. Two dozen state–of–the–art computers work with weather analysis software to provide real–time weather reports and forecast modeling. The reds, greens and blues of the monitors flicker brightly in the dark lab in the basement of Armstrong Hall. Even while away from the monitors, student assistants keep an eye tuned to the Weather Channel.

Like a brewing hurricane, data and research gleaned from the WALTER Weather Lab gains momentum when applied to the outside world. Students learn and engage in storm–chasing techniques that allow them to learn more about the nature of storms and help the rest of us become better prepared for severe weather. The WALTER storm–chasing vehicle is fully funded by sponsors and equipped with sensors, monitors and virtual maps that pinpoint exact locations. Students have traveled all across the Midwest scoping out storms, trying to learn more about weather's volatile nature.

Students in the WALTER lab also are working on a radon detection project, funded by the Minnesota Department of Health. Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas that forms from the breakdown of uranium, common in Minnesota soils. At high levels, radon exposure can pose a health risk. So far, almost 1,200 homes in the region have been tested for radon at no cost to the homeowners. The team helps any homeowners at dangerous levels get more information about radon mitigation to reduce the health risk.

Not only does WALTER's research benefit the public, it also benefits the students who work there. While still undergraduates, they have access to equipment and technology sometimes not even found in the professional world. Many students who work in the WALTER lab were drawn to Minnesota State Mankato because of the high–tech lab. "There's not another one to beat us in the Midwest", says Cecil Keen, director of WALTER.

Speaking OutSpeaking Out

One floor up from the WALTER lab in Armstrong Hall, faculty in Speech, Hearing, and Rehabilitation Services provide clinics, support groups and outreach to a variety of communities in southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro region.

Consider Bonnie Lund and Patricia Hargrove, who are working as consultants to the University of Minnesota and regional public schools to help special needs children communicate a problem before it gets out of control. Their work helps a child verbalize the fact that he or she needs a break or doesn't want to play anymore without lashing out or becoming aggressive.

In the metro area, Cindy Busch works with people who suffer from aphasia, a speech problem that can occur after a stroke or other brain injury. Four groups of six or seven stroke survivors, along with their families and care providers, meet regularly and as a result, climb out of isolation and increase activity. Carol Myhre also directs an aphasia support group. For years, stroke survivors received inpatient care and then outpatient care for a time, but that was all. This new model helps them improve their communication skills while exposing Minnesota State Mankato students to a new and emerging treatment approach.

The campus' audiology clinic conducts hearing tests for children, with University students often doing the checks. The clinic also has done testing at places such as the Women's Expo in Mankato. Anyone who needs further testing is referred to the on–campus clinic – a hidden jewel, according to Clinic Director Renee Shellum. "A lot of people say, ‘I didn't know you were here’", she says. Those clinics have benefited significantly from community support as well. For the past two decades, the Key City Sertoma Club, a Mankato–based service club, has contributed more than $100,000, which has helped pay for testing equipment and materials used in the community and the clinic.

Besides working with students and teachers in the region, Hargrove also works with the Development and Behavior Clinic, which is run by the Minnesota Department of Health to help diagnose a gamut of problems in young children. At this clinic, pediatricians, occupational therapists, psychologists, special education teachers and Hargrove come together to work with select students throughout a day. Department Chair Bruce Poburka works closely with the voice disorders clinic. He often gets referrals from other clinics, which see the Minnesota State Mankato clinic as a professional peer. Many times, someone at another clinic will call and say, "Can you take a listen to this?"

Like many research and outreach projects on campus, the Speech,Hearing, and Rehabilitation Services department is making big differences in the quality of people's lives. Poburka remembers a nun who had ost her voice. After one session she had her speech back. "She left and called us ‘miracle workers’", Poburka says. "The day that a nun calls you a miracle worker, that's really quite the day".

Freelance writer Rachael Hanel is a regular contributor to both TOMORROW and TODAY, the magazine for Minnesota State Mankato alumni and friends.