Dr. Elaine Frank ‘tirelessly built outstanding department’
June 11, 2012
As she prepares for retirement next year, Dr. Elaine M. Frank says one of her great career satisfactions has been her administrative role as chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders since 1999 -- a period marked by dramatic enrollment growth, program expansion, faculty achievement and research accomplishments.
On August 1, she turns the reins of leadership over to Dr. Kenn Apel, the current director of the School of Communication Science and Disorders at Florida State University, but she will remain another year to assist with the transition.
In noting Frank’s retirement and announcing Apel’s appointment, Arnold School of Public Health Dean Tom Chandler, said, “Dr. Frank has tirelessly built an outstanding department” and expressed his appreciation for her “dedication to the department, the school and her remarkable students.”
Originally from New England, Frank has been associated with USC for almost 40 years, initially arriving as a student herself to obtain dual master’s degrees in audiology and speech pathology in 1976 and her doctorate in 1988. She initially envisioned a career in education when she obtained her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, but she soon was drawn to speech pathology, then audiology, “backup career choices” that she eventually came to love.
She joined the USC faculty as an assistant professor in 1991 and became an associate professor in 1997. She also served on the staff of the William J. Dorn Veteran’s Hospital from 1981 to 1991, including eight years as chief of speech pathology.
Her areas of concentration in speech pathology have been neurological disorders such as stroke and dementia and brain injury in children and adults. She has achieved distinction in her area of concentration in notable ways. A dedicated and widely funded researcher, she has been published in numerous professional journals and serves as a peer reviewer for Aphasiology Journal and Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology and also has been a grant reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education.
The field provides a myriad of opportunities to contribute in academe’s three pronged mission of research, education and service, she said, but her administrative role “has been a real highlight.”
It also has been satisfying to witness the department’s growth into one of the largest in the Southeast and one whose reach extends across world through its distance education program, Frank said.
She credits those strides to a strong and committed faculty team “with the focused purpose of making the communications disorders department one of finest programs in the nation with a dedication that has been remarkable.” Those efforts have succeeded, she said, in a number of achievements that include:
- a clinical program that is one of the best in the Southeast;
- a cochlear implant program providing hearing that has grown into one of the largest in the region;
- a distance education program that has become a model for the nation;
- a research program that has quadrupled and generated more than $10 million in grant funding;
- a distinguished faculty that has excelled in research and service as well as teaching.
Frank is especially proud of the department’s distance education program that allows students to remain in their home settings but “earn the same master’s degree that we offer here on campus. We have students from all over the United States and abroad,” she said.
Another highlight is COMD students “graduate with jobs – 100 percent employment at graduation. Our students are much sought after, none has a problem finding a place to go to work,” she said.
The department also boasts to quality faculty members that include leaders in their fields, Frank said. The list include Professors Julius Fridriksson, director of the aphasia laboratory, recently named by the USC Board of Trustees as the USC Health Sciences Distinguished Professor in Communication Disorders; Denise A. Finneran in language development; Daniel Fogarty in speech perception; Dirk B. den Ouden in neurolinguistics; Denise Richardson in stroke and language; Hiram L. McDade as director of the graduate program; Allen A. Montgomery as head of the doctoral program; and Danielle Varnedoe as director of the speech and hearing center. Frank, herself, has served as director of the adult neurological disorders laboratory.
Her chosen field has allowed her to treat people with speech and hearing deficits across the age spectrum from infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities, to returning veterans with war injuries to elderly patients with strokes and language deficits. The opportunity to treat all generations has been gratifying.
Her recent work with wounded warriors suffering hearing injuries caused by roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq has been especially rewarding, said Frank, who has been working with the USC Surgeon General on a protocol to support injured warriors who want to return to service and to assist those who will not be able to continue their military careers.
Looking forward to her retirement, Frank wants to travel more with her husband, Dr. Robert L. Frank, and devote more time to genealogy, a favorite pursuit, and a field in which she not surprisingly has already achieved considerable expertise.
Frank has logged many hours at the National Archives and has documented a distinguished lineage of some 80 generations, including several Mayflower ancestors.
She treasures the stories of those forebears -- not just their names and pertinent dates. For example, she was touched to learn that one of her Union Army ancestors was a Confederate prisoner of war who won his freedom in a subsequent exchange of captured soldiers. Another served in General Sherman’s march across the South. She has letters in her possession that document those war experiences.
As for her yen to travel, Frank has visited every continent except Australia so “down under will be on the itinerary in the near future,” an opportunity that she and her husband are happily anticipating.