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2020 Faculty Convocation Recognizes Excellence

September 05, 2020
Photo of Sofia Vallila Rohter, PhD, CCC-SLP
Sofia Vallila Rohter received the Nancy T. Watts Award for Excellence in Teaching, the MGH Institute’s highest faculty honor for teaching

The 2020-2021 academic year at MGH Institute of Health Professions began September 1 with its annual Faculty Convocation.

Hosted by Dr. Peter Cahn, associate provost for academic affairs, and Heather Easter, director of academic operations, the Zoom event was presented like a virtual Hollywood awards ceremony. The event, highlighted by the presentation of several faculty awards and recognitions, drew more than 160 faculty, staff, and administrators.

Dr. Alex Johnson, provost and vice president for academic affairs, lauded the IHP community for its resilience during the coronavirus pandemic that forced the campus to close for more than five months, pivot to all online classes and telehealth learning, and delay Commencement by more than three months until the end of August.

“Usually, in these annual convocation comments I reflect briefly on the past year and what is ahead. This year I am focusing on the now,” he said. “This year, it is more attention to the gratitude for the work we have done, our current level of success, and our collective concerns about the future. We are all in this together, and I hope that you join me with a sense of collective confidence that we can get through this. I know we can.”

Highest Faculty Teaching Award Presented

Dr. Sofia Vallila Rohter, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders and co-director of the Cognitive Research Group, received the Nancy T. Watts Award for Excellence in Teaching, the MGH Institute’s highest faculty honor for teaching.

“I can’t think of a colleague that would deserve it more,” says James Heaton, an adjunct professor of CSD. “Sofia has been a great asset for the Institute. Her research has been very strong and she has always taken her teaching very seriously. The students – they see her not only as a mentor but really as a role model. They all look up to her and see her as what they would love to become if they ever stayed in academia with speech language pathology.”

Rohter Vallila received her PhD from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Program in Speech and Hearing Biosciences and Technology in 2014, She joined the IHP faculty in 2015. She teaches graduate courses on phonetics, acoustics, and the neural bases of speech, language and hearing. In addition to mentoring SLP and PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences students, she works as a speech-language pathologist in acute care with the rehabilitation team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“I think the key with her is that every activity, every video, every assignment, every lecture, it is very intentional and that makes it easy to buy into what she is teaching you because you know that it is directly contributing to your learning the concept that you need to learn,” said SLP graduate Marissa Russell. “None of it is busy work, and she makes it as fun and engaging as possible. I have had a lot of teachers throughout my academic career and Sofia is easily one of the best I have ever had, and I have had a lot of great ones.”

Vallila Rohter is the 31st recipient of the Watts award, named after the nationally renowned physical therapist pioneer at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was instrumental in the creation of the MGH Institute and was the first leader of its physical therapy program.

Faculty Recognition

Several faculty received awards from the Institute.

Dr. Patrice Nicholas, a professor of nursing, received the 2020 Faculty Award for Excellence in Research. Her scholarship and research efforts have focused on global issues, quality of life, and climate and health. She has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, two textbooks, and many invited and peer-reviewed presentations, along with a continuous record of scholarly accomplishments.

Dr. Kimberly Erler, an assistant professor of occupational therapy, received the New Investigator Award. Her research interests include stroke recovery, traumatic brain injury, and caregiver wellness. Her record of publications is increasing rapidly. 

Dr. Tiffany Hogan, director of the Speech and Language (SAiL) Literacy Lab and a professor of communication sciences and disorders, received the first Excellence in Mentorship Award. Widely recognized as a leading scholar nationally and internationally in the area of language and literacy with an outstanding record of publishing and externally funded research, she has mentored post-doctoral fellows, doctoral students, and over 50 undergraduate and graduate students. 

The Child Development Day team received the 2020 Award for Excellence in Advancing Interprofessional Education and Practice. The team organizes the yearly event during which students in the IHP's direct-entry programs learn and observe youngsters and then break into interprofessional teams to discuss their observations.

Three faculty received Research Fellow Grants. They are: Dr. Erler, assistant professor of occupational therapy, for “Advancing Stroke Research Through Remote Assessment;” Dr. Keshrie Naidoo, assistant professor of physical therapy, for “Mentoring Model to Promote Minority Students;” and Dr. Susan Smith, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, for “Intervention for Students with Reading and Language Difficulties.”

The Research Operations Committee awarded eight seed grants to 20 faculty members to conduct research on the coronavirus. Complete list of faculty and their projects.

Dr. Laura Plummer, an assistant professor of physical therapy, Dr. Anne McCarthy Jacobson, an assistant professor of physical therapy, and Dr. Kaveri Roy, an assistant professor of nursing, have been elected to the second cohort of the Teaching Excellence Academy for Learning, or TEAL. It is an honorary society for faculty members who demonstrate sustained contributions to the teaching mission of the Institute and capacity for mentorship. Fellows receive funding for professional development and the title of Distinguished Teaching Professor.

Three faculty in the School of Nursing were recognized for serving as Onramp group leaders during the past academic year: Dr. Antonia Makosky, Dr. Abraham Ndiwane, and Dr. Nicholas.

Other Faculty News

Dr. Nicholas succeeded Dr. Diane Smith, a professor of occupational therapy, as chair of the Faculty Senate for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Dr. Robert Hillman stepped down as director of the PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences program, which he has led since its inception several years ago. Hillman will continue to be an adjunct faculty member. Dr. Teresa Kimberley, director of the Brain Recovery Lab and a professor of physical therapy, has been named the program’s interim director.

The Board of Trustees awarded sabbatical leave to three faculty members for the 2020-2021 academic year. Dr. Jordan Green, Matina Souretis Horner Professor in Rehabilitation Sciences, will use the time to learn artificial intelligence-based speech analysis techniques and improve his mentoring of early-stage investigators. Dr. Marjorie Nicholas, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, will analyze data from studies on aphasia and the S-IHP’s CAP program. Dr. Elise Townsend, an associate professor of physical therapy, intends to develop a higher level of skill in determining motor outcome measures that she can apply to rare pediatric genetic disease studies.  

Sixteen faculty members received promotions, the most ever in a single year.

Assistant Professor: Dr. Mary Beth Coughlin, SON; Rachel Pittman, CSD; Sara Smoller, SON; Dr. Susan Stevens, SON; Meghan Viveiros, PA. 
Associate Professor:  Dr. Rawan AlHeresh, OT; Dr. Suellen Breakey, SON; Dr. Andrew Phillips, SON; Dr. Sofia Vallila Rohter, CSD; Dr. Katherine Simmonds, SON; Dr. Margie Sipe, SON; Dr. John Wong, SON. 
Professor:  Dr. Regina Doherty, OT; Dr. Susan Fasoli, OT; Dr. Elissa Ladd, SON; Dr. Patricia Reidy, SON.