Language and memory expert Waters picked as new Sargent College dean
By David J. Craig
As an undergraduate psychology intern working with reading-disabled children at McGill University in the 1970s, Gloria Waters was alarmed by the lack of evidence supporting the therapeutic strategies used by clinicians in her field: was a phonics approach best for addressing certain types of reading problems or should it be exercises that emphasize learning entire words? Experts couldn’t agree.
Waters decided then that she could help people with learning disabilities most by entering research. “For my doctorate at Concordia University, I did very theoretical work on the processes involved in normal skilled reading and reading acquisition that I knew could guide therapy,” says the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences professor of communication disorders and chair of the health sciences department. “That’s been the focus of my research ever since — researching theory not for theory’s sake, but in order to help clinicians understand what a particular patient’s underlying problem is and what therapeutic intervention will be most effective.”
Waters, a widely published researcher on language and memory processes, will become dean of Sargent College on January 1. She says that among her goals as dean will be to encourage faculty and students involved in basic research to collaborate with those who specialize in clinical practices, and vice versa. “Sargent College has excellent faculty doing basic research on topics ranging from the genetic basis of muscle atrophy to evaluating the efficacy of different types of physical therapy for Parkinson’s patients,” Waters says, “as well as faculty whose job is to teach students how to work with individual clients. Those groups have much to learn from each other.”
Waters will take over the Sargent College deanship from Alan Jette, a SAR professor of rehabilitation sciences, who has led the college since 1996. Jette will continue to direct the Health and Disability Research Institute.
“Dr. Gloria Waters is a well-respected scientist in her field,” says Provost ad interim David Campbell, “and we feel she is most capable of leading Sargent College in this period of great change related to American health care.”
A member of the SAR faculty since 1997, Waters has researched extensively sentence comprehension in aphasia, acquisition of reading skills in normally developing children and deaf children, and how different areas of the brain are involved in language processing. Her current work focuses on how aging and dementia affect language skills, as well as the neural basis of syntactic comprehension. She collaborates with her husband, David Caplan, a professor of neurology at Harvard University and director of the Neuropsychology Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, in these projects, which are funded by the National Institutes of Health.
As dean, she plans to promote interdisciplinary research and study, as well. “One of Sargent College’s strengths is that it offers programs in every major rehabilitation area,” she says. “That gives students an opportunity to learn not just about their own field of study, but also about the fields of other professionals they will have contact with on the job.”
Jette says that Waters’ “very strong research and scholarly background,” and her “excellent administrative skills and knowledge of the issues facing Sargent College” will ensure a smooth transition for the school. “Gloria has tremendous drive and energy and is a wonderful collaborator,” he says. “She works with people on the Medical Campus as well as in other institutions, both in Boston and outside of the area, and she’ll bring that experience to the position, which I think will be a strength.”
A native of Montreal, Waters lives in the Back Bay with her husband. Her stepdaughter, Hilary Caplan (CAS’06), is a BU undergraduate. Waters enjoys vacationing in Maine and is a dog lover and an avid gardener.
Jessica Ullian contributed to this report.