Cara Stepp, an Outstanding Researcher Has Been Promoted to the Rank of Professor

Project Title: Accuracy of Acoustic measures of Voice via Tele-Therapy Platforms

PI: Cara Stepp, Professor, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, ENG

Co-PI: Lauren Tracy, Assistant Professor, Otolaryngology, MED

Due to the limited access to vocal therapy for patients with voice disorders, speech-language pathologists were required to utilize telepractice to conduct voice therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acoustic assessment has the potential to provide critical, objective information during telepractice, yet its validity via telepractice was unknown. Funded via a pilot grant awarded by Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) of Boston University (BU) for COVID-19 related Research, PI Cara Stepp, Co-PI Lauren Tracy, and Ph.D. Student Hasini Weerathunge investigated the validity of a battery of acoustic measures via teleconferencing platforms for voice telepractice during the summer of 2020. The team leveraged an existing database of acoustic recordings from individuals with voice disorders, recorded in-person in a soundproof booth, and disseminated them via a selected set of teleconferencing platforms. The results indicated that teleconferencing platforms impacted acoustic measures in a clinically significant manner and specific teleconferencing platforms had less deleterious effects on acoustic measures. These results provide important insights to clinicians as to which acoustic measures and teleconferencing platforms should be utilized for voice evaluations, as well as important preliminary data for future work in voice telepractice. A research article consolidating the results of the study is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. The results will also be presented at the 14th International Conference on Advances in Quantitative Laryngology, Voice, and Speech Research, Virtual/Bogotá, Colombia.

This is not the first time that Dr. Stepp’s work has been facilitated by the BU CTSI. In 2013, as a new assistant professor at BU, Dr. Stepp was supported by BU CTSI’s KL2 Career Development program. Their support provided dedicated research time and facilitated direct mentoring in grant writing. This early mentoring was key to Dr. Stepp’s ability to fund her research program in speech science. Specifically, her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with over $8M in research funds awarded as PI. The goals of her work are to 1) improve the assessment and treatment of sensorimotor disorders of voice and speech and 2) contribute to the understanding of the relationships among neural control of movement, physiology, self-perception, acoustics, and listener auditory-perception of voice and speech. After her initial support from BU CTSI, Dr. Stepp received the NSF CAREER award (2015), was named as a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2018), and received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2019). She was promoted to associate professor in 2018, and to full professor in 2021.

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