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Student lauded for work with hearing-impaired children

This year’s Decibels Foundation Scholar, Nicole Pitre, was officially honored for her achievement at a recent award dinner. A stipend is awarded annually to a top student in the graduate program in Communication Disorders and is intended to encourage the best and brightest to pursue a career helping children with hearing loss. Pitre, who is the fourth recipient of this award and a second-year Speech-Language Pathology graduate student, said the $6,000 award is enabling her to focus on the hands-on early intervention work she loves.

Graduate student Nicole Pitre (center) is flanked by (from left) Emerson Communication Sciences and Disorders Chair Daniel Kempler, Director of Clinical Programs Betsy Micucci, and Decibels Foundation founders Mark and Julia Dunning,

The connection between the Decibels Foundation and Emerson College stems from one family’s emotional experience. About 10 years ago, Mark and Julia Dunning of Stow, Massachusetts, discovered their newborn baby, Bella, had profound hearing loss. During a speech he gave at the award dinner, Mark Dunning recalled how lost he and his wife felt. They feared Bella’s hearing loss would isolate her from other children and had no idea how to help her become the happy, social child she had the potential to be. The Dunnings were referred to Emerson’s Robbins Speech, Language, and Hearing Center’s Thayer Lindsley Family-Centered Program.

“The Thayer Lindsley program saved our lives,” Dunning said.

The Thayer Lindsley program has been part of Emerson’s Communication Disorders program for more than 50 years. It is a family-focused early intervention program that serves young children with hearing loss.

The Dunnings are an example of the Thayer Lindsley program’s objective of empowering parents of children with hearing loss. After Bella finished treatment at the Robbins Center, the Dunnings were inspired to start a similar program in a Boston suburb. They teamed with Minute Man Arc in Concord to create a program modeled after the Thayer Lindsley. To raise money for the Minute Man Arc program, the Dunnings started the Decibels Foundation.

To give back to the school that helped them in their time of need, the Dunnings set up the Decibels Scholar Award through the foundation. Nicole Pitre was the perfect candidate for the award, said Lynn Connors, an Emerson clinical instructor who coordinates the program.

“Nicole has a special energy when relating to both the young child and parents in the program. She’s really wonderful about making relationships and figuring out how to be the most supportive teacher and speech-language pathologist she can be.”

Pitre discovered her love for communication disorders when she was a junior at Louisiana State University and took her first sign language class. “I fell in love,” she said. That love grew when she started at Emerson in 2010 and became a Thayer Lindsley classroom clinician. She works with infants and children with hearing loss and their parents in the children’s pivotal early developmental years.

“Being able to provide a child with their first experience with language and sound is one of the most fulfilling things I could ever imagine doing,” Pitre said.

At the award dinner, Mark Dunning expressed his support for Pitre, and stressed the importance of the field in which she is committed.

“These kids with hearing loss can succeed wildly. They can be just like any other member of society, but they have to start off right. And the people who study in this [Thayer Lindsley] program are key to making that happen,” he said.

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