Support for those who stutter

Ann Bosma Smit ’66


Summer 2011

Calvin’s new master’s degree program in speech pathology and audiology has a fan hundreds of miles away. In fact, Ann Bosma Smit ’66 was a primary encourager for Professor Judy Vander Woude in considering the move to create just the second MA program at Calvin.

“As part of an external evaluation more than 14 years ago, Ann suggested that we start a grad program, and since that time, she has been a strong supporter of what we are doing,” said Vander Woude.

Smit’s own reputation in the field of communication disorders gave her recommendations added weight.

“Ann is well-known in the speech pathology field for her groundbreaking work on phonology—speech sound—development,” Vander Woude said. “I hold her in high esteem, as do many others.”

Smit is a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Kansas State University. Her expertise is in the area of sound acquisition in children, and she is currently working on developing intervention techniques in preschoolers to facilitate better speech development. She also specializes in the clinical treatment of fluency disorders, chiefly stuttering.

But that’s not how her career began. At Calvin, she was a double major in chemistry and English, thinking that she would go pre-med. Her father is a pediatrician, specializing in head- and neck-related issues.

“We did talk about speech pathology when I was pondering my vocational direction,” said Smit, “but at that time, Calvin only had one course on the subject.”

Smit met her soon-to-be husband, David, at Calvin. He was majoring in English, and as they contemplated further education after college, they wound up together at the University of Iowa—David in English and Ann in speech pathology.

The Smits took time after Iowa to serve in a teaching ministry at a school in the famous city of Tarsus in Turkey.

“It was very interesting as a female in a Muslim country,” she recalled. “Even though Turkey is officially a secular democracy, one has to pay attention to what one wears.”

After a time in Vermont upon returning to the States, the Smits returned to academia at the University of Maryland and both received doctoral degrees and taught in their fields. Eventually, they both found teaching positions at Kansas State.

She is inspired to work with children, finding ways of identifying and correcting errant speech patterns at early ages to improve the child’s interactions with others and promote literacy skills. In working with children who stutter, the goal is to prevent the malady from being persistent (as in the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech), if at all possible.

“I analyze the speech patterns of children, noting what goes wrong for some of them and working with parents and teachers to intervene and change those problematic patterns,” she said.

Smit enjoyed The King’s Speech, noting that the therapist in the move, Lionel Logue, had no research to draw upon when working with the soon-to-be-king George V and had to be very upfront and demanding to get results.

Her work is intended to reduce the need for the much harder work of trying to correct debilitating speech patterns in adults. If the speech problems can be identified and corrected early, an individual has a better chance of avoiding years of struggle.

“We also tend to see many young adults with fluency disorders in our speech clinics,” she noted. “There is a large reluctance to seek help with communication disorders. Most people try to cover those problems up, try to conceal them.”

Smit is pleased that Calvin has moved forward to provide an advanced degree in the field and talks about a shortage of professionals to serve those who need assistance, as well as a shortage of persons with doctorates in the discipline who can fill important teaching positions.

“I think Calvin is in a unique position to make an impact in the field,” she said. “Calvin models what good speech pathology education is all about.”