Graduate Student and Collaborating Fellow Profiles

Currently, the Children’s Speech Research Laboratory is the home to seven students who are completing an MSc-SLP thesis track degree, and seven students who are completing and MSC-SLP clinical track degree inclusive of a capstone (SPA 900) project.  In addition, a PhD student and a Postdoctoral Fellow from the Centre for Neuroscience have become valuable members of the research team. These students are the strength and energy of the laboratory.  Each brings a unique set of research skills and interests and all have a passion for discovery.

Dr. Jonathan Norton, PhD – Post Doctoral Fellow, Centre for Neuroscience

Co-investigator: Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation Research Grant: Intensive voice treatment for children with cerebral palsy: Sensorimotor neuroplasticity and functional outcomes

Co-investigator: EMG and the development of postural control and speech in children with and without cerebral palsy

Co-investigator: Neuroplasticity and functional outcomes in people with facial paralysis following facial reanimation surgery

Joanna Clair, BSc Kinesiology,
University of Alberta

Neuroscience laboratory rotation: Coordination of postural and speech tasks in children

Project Summary: We are investigating how children learn to coordinate postural and speech tasks. We were led to research this question from an observation that children with cerebral palsy have difficulty maintaining an upright posture and speaking at the same time. The goal of this project is to understand how the motor systems involved in both of these tasks mature in typically developing children. We are measuring surface electromyography from muscles of the chest wall and trunk, as well as recording the kinematics associated with breathing.

Peer reviewed publications and presentations:

C.A. Boliek, J.A. Norton, *J. Clair*, L. Homaeian. (2006) Chest wall muscle activation patterns during combined postural and speech tasks in children with cerebral palsy. Society of Neuroscience Abstract. October, 2006, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.* *

*Clair, J.M*., Homaeian, L., Norton, J.A., and Boliek, C.A. ( 2006) Coordination of speech and postural tasks in young children. Canadian Physiological Society Winter Meeting, Feb. 1-5, Lake Louise, AB, Canada.

Boliek, C.A., Homaeian, L., Welsh, C., Sherkat, R., Norton, J., and *Clair, J. *(2006) Chest Wall EMG during Postural Stability Tasks and Vocalization in Infants and Young Children With and Without Neurogenic Communication Disorders. 2006 Conference on Motor Speech: Speech Motor Control Track, March 23-25, Austin, Texas, USA.

Norton JA, *Clair J*, Homaeian L & Boliek C.* *Maturation of Motor Control Pathways Involved in Coordination of Speech and Posture. Physiological Society. Main meeting, UCL, London. July 2006.

Melissa Harasem, BSc Psychology,
University of Alberta

Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta

Thesis: Neuroplasticity and functional outcomes in people with facial paralysis following facial reanimation surgery (co-supervisor, Dr. Rieger)


Project Summary: One treatment for permanent facial paralysis is facial reanimation surgery, where there is a microneurovascular transfer of the gracilis muscle from the leg to the face. The goal of surgery is to create a simulated smile and to increase oro-motor competence and coordination for function. The purpose of my study is to objectively evaluate central and peripheral nervous system changes and their relation to function (facial movement, mastication, oral competence, drooling, articulation, and speech intelligibility) during short- and long-term recovery after facial reanimation surgery.

Academic Funding: Canadian Institute of Health Research Master’s Award Walter H Johns Graduate Fellowship Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship

Gabriela Constantinescu, BSc Biological Sciences, University of Alberta

Hometown: Craiova, Romania and Burnaby BC

Thesis: Behavioural and Physiological Markers of Synchrony during Face-to-Face Interactions between Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their Mothers

Project Summary: When we are engaged in a face-to-face conversation, the breathing patterns of the listener will begin to synchronize to those of the speaker; the listener's breathing patterns will begin to resemble speech breathing more so than rest breathing. This phenomenon is called entrainment and has been observed in typical adults and in typically developing infants as young as 7 weeks old. I intend to determine whether entrainment occurs in children who have been diagnosed with ASD. If entrainment is not present, then it could be potentially used as a future physiological marker in conjunction with other behavioural markers.

Academic Funding: SSHRC

Peer reviewed presentation and publications:

Goping I.S., Barry M., Liston P., Sawchuk T., Constantinescu G., Michalak K.M., Shostak I., Roberts D.L., Hunter A.M., Korneluk R., Bleackley R.C. (2003). Granzyme B-Induced Apoptosis Requires Both Direct Caspase Activation and Relief of Caspase Inhibition. Immunity, vol18, 355-365. Cell Press.

Helmle K.E., et al. Variable MLH1 promoter methylation patterns in endometrial carcinomas of endometrioid subtype lacking DNA mismatch repair. Int. J. Gyn. Cancer. (pending for publication).

Boliek, C.A., Jones, K., Homaeian, L., Rosborough, A., Constantinescu, G., & Donescu, O. (2006). Physiological markers of synchrony during mother-infant interactions. Paper presented at the 2006 meeting of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, Miami, FLA.

Carrie Timgren, BA (honours) Psychology, University of Winnipeg

Winnipeg Hometown: Sandy Hook, Manitoba

Thesis: Physiological and acoustic measures of speech and voice outcomes in children with Cochlear Implants (co-supervisor, Dr. Campbell)

Project Summary: This research will measure the function of the speech subsystems (lungs, larynx, velopharynx, oral articulators) that may contribute to the development of speech motor control in children with cochlear implants. It will provide a description of the developing speech mechanism of children with cochlear implants who differ by type of technology and by age at implantation. It is hypothesized that if the age at implantation is earlier and the technology is more advanced, then there will be a greater advantage in establishing motor control for speech production.

Academic Funding: CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) Canada Graduate Scholarships - Master's Award; Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship; Walter H. Johns Graduate Fellowship.

Amy Ryniak, B Sc Psychology,
University of Alberta

Hometown:  St. Albert, Alberta

Project Summary:  Assessment of current practices regarding educational information and its dissemination to parents of children with traumatic brain injury(co-supervisor, Leslie Wellman)

Project Summary:  The purpose of this study is to explore (a) the educational information seen as being needed most by parents of children with traumatic brain injury who were admitted to Alberta’s major hospitals and (b) the delivery format of the information. A focus group will be used to collect data from two groups: (a) parents of children with traumatic brain injury who were admitted to Alberta’s major hospitals and (b) health care professionals working in pediatric traumatic brain injury. The focus group will be used to inform changes to a prototype questionnaire. The questionnaire will address issues of importance shown in the current literature. The revised prototype questionnaire will be field-tested with parents of children with traumatic brain injury. Parents’ responses will be used to further revise and validate the questionnaire for province-wide distribution.

Academic Funding: Elks and Royal Purple Scholarship RMSA Scholarship 2005/2006

Marissa Lepage,  Honours B.A.  Psychology, University of Ottawa

Hometown:  Regina, Saskatchewan







Anna Smith, BA Psychology,
University of Victoria

Hometown:  Calgary, Alberta




Project: Neuroprotection and neuroplasticity in children and adults with communication disorders: A review

Project Summary: Neuroplasticity and neuroprotection are topics that have gained considerable attention in the literature. Their possible application to speech, language and medical intervention hold exciting possibilities for functional recovery following brain injury or disease. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity for lifelong changes in its structure and function. This allows the brain to change in response to the environment, internal changes within the organism, or an interaction of both. Neuroprotection is an attempt to maintain the highest possible integrity of cellular interactions in the brain, endogenously or exogenously, resulting in an undisturbed neural function. Current animal and some human studies have investigated the effects of neurochemistry and behavioural intervention to determine the mechanisms underlying neuroplasticity and neuroprotection. We hope to submit a professional paper to CASLPA’s Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, to inform our practice about the current state of knowledge surrounding these issues and how they may apply to clinical intervention.

Christie Nemeth  BA  Psychology

University of Lethbridge

Hometown:  Lethbridge, Alberta

Project Development of  the Central Nervous System in Children with Cerebral Palsy 

Project Summary:  This project is comprised of a systematic literature review on the  development of the central and peripheral nervous system in the typical child and children with cerebral palsy. This review will serve as basis for identifying regions of interest and marking pyramidal track changes using water diffusion tensor imaging pre- and post intensive voice treatment in children with CP.

Academic Funding

Queen Elizabeth II

Peer reviewed presentation and publications

Inge Genee & Christie Nemeth with contributions from Maede Ejaredar, Julie Greidanus, Iris Kleinbub and Shelley Stigter (March 2006) ‘The Dutch Language in Southern Alberta. An investigation into patterns of minority language shift. For: Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies.

Rendall, D., Vokey, J., Nemeth, C. and Ney, C. (submitted).  

Asymmetric voice-formant cues to speaker body size in male and female speakers.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

Rendall, D, Vasey, P., Vokey., Choi, J., Mckenzie., and Nemeth C. 

(August 2005)  The acoustic profile of gay thpeech: Is there really such a thing as 'the gay voice'? International Conference on Behavioural Development, Minot, ND.

 Rendall, D., Vokey, J.R., and Nemeth C. (July 2005) Small talk … and tall talk:

Perceptual experiments confirm modest voice-formant cues to speaker height in men but not women.  Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science, Montreal QC.

Rendall, D., Vokey, J., Nemeth, C. and Ney, C. (May 2005) Perceptual experiments confirm reliable but weakly salient voice-formant cues to speaker body size in men but not women.  Acoustical Society of America, Annual Meeting, Vancouver, Canada.

Genee, I., Greidanus, J. and Nemeth, C. (October 2004).  The Dutch Language in Southern Alberta.  Alberta Conference on Linguistics, Banff,  AB. (presented by Christie Nemeth)

Carly Nickerson BSc Psychology

University of Alberta

Hometown:  Edmonton, Alberta



Thesis Analysis of white matter fibre count measured from diffusion tensor images of children with spastic cerebral palsy following intensive voice treatment

Project Summary The current study follows children with spastic CP through intensive voice treatment and analyses of neurological results using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a non-invasive brain imaging technique that does not use radiation; therefore, MRI can be used in longitudinal studies and is safe to use with children. It also provides excellent resolution and tissue contrast for research purposes. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), one type of MRI, is used to differentiate and measure the integrity of individual white matter tracts, which is a function unavailable to other methods. This type of MRI is advantageous for the current study in particular due to the correlation between spastic CP and lesions in the motor cortex and its descending white matter tracts. The study is probing for DTI data that reflects definitive changes in the “wiring” of the brain that links white matter integrity to the intensive treatment perturbation for speech.

Academic Funding

Jason Lang Scholarship

 Peer reviewed presentation and publications

Nickerson, C.M., Bloomfield, L.L., Dawson, M.R.W., Charrier, I., & Sturdy, C.B. (under review). Feature weighting in ‘chick-a-dee-call notes of Poecile atricapillus. Journal of the Acoustic Society of America (6,933 word manuscript submitted September 12, 2006).

Nickerson, C.M., Bloomfield, L.L., Dawson, M.R.W., & Sturdy, C.B. (2006). Artificial neural networks that discriminate notes from the ‘chick-a-dee’ call of Poecile atricapillus: The effect of pitch transformations. Virtual Journal of Biophysics Research, 12 (4) (URL: Reprint of article that appeared in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 120, 1111-1117.

Nickerson, C.M., Bloomfield, L.L., Dawson, M.R.W., & Sturdy, C.B. (2006). Artificial neural networks that discriminate notes from the ‘chick-a-dee’ call of Poecile atricapillus: The effect of pitch transformations. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 120, 1111-1117.

Nickerson, C.M., Bloomfield, L.L., Dawson, M.R.W., & Sturdy, C.B. (2006). The effect of pitch transformations on artificial neural networks that discriminate note from the ‘chick-a-dee’ call of Poecile atricapillus. Poster presented at the 16th annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, June 23).

Bridget McLeod BSc Biology and Psychology

Mount Allison University

Hometown:  Toronto, Ontario

Thesis Functional assessment of swallowing in oropharyngeal cancer patients following pharyngeal stimulation (co-supervisor, Dr. Rieger)

Project Summary This study will investigate the effects of electrical stimulation of the pharynx on cortically evoked electromyography (EMG) response of the pharynx and swallowing function in oropharyngeal cancer patients suffering from dysphagia. In each patient, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) will be used to determine which cortical areas produce a pharyngeal EMG response. The pharynx will then be stimulated electrically. Following this stimulation, the EMG response of the pharynx to TMS will be measured. Swallowing will be assessed using video fluoroscopy before and after electrical stimulation of the pharynx. This study will determine how electrical stimulation of the pharynx affects swallowing and the cortical areas that control swallowing and may lead to improved treatment of dysphagia in patients with oropharyngeal cancer.

Elizabeth Huebert BA (with distinction) Psychology and Linguistics

University of Alberta

Hometown:  Wetaskiwin, Alberta

Thesis:  Assessment and monitoring practices of speech-language pathologists who work with resonance disorders (co-supervisor, Dr. Hagler)

Project Summary This study will examine best practices for the assessment of resonance disorders by clinicians in Western Canada.  Through the use of surveys and interviews the state of the practice and associated technologies used in the field, will be described.

Nahal Namdaran BA, MA Linguistics

University of British Columbia

Hometown:  North Vancouver, British Columbia

Project:  Analysis of acoustic features and intelligibility of children with spastic cerebral palsy following intensive voice treatment

Project Summary The current study follows children with spastic CP through intensive voice treatment.   Changes in speech motor control using acoustic and intelligibility markers will be studied to assess therapeutic impact.  Acoustic variables and intelligibility measures will be correlated to physiological and therapeutic outcomes.


Namdaran, Nahal (2005). “An ultrasonic investigation of retraction in St’a’timcets,” in eds. Armoskaite, Solveiga and James J. Thompson Proceedings of WSCLA 10, University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics 17: 164-177.


Namdaran, Nahal (2005).  “An ultrasonic investigation of retracted consonants in St’át’imcets (Lillooet Salish),” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 117 (4), 2490-2491.


Christa Piccott  BSc  Psychology

Memorial University of Newfoundland

Hometown:  C.B.S. Newfoundland






Jill Hilstad BA Linguistics

University of Calgary

HometownCanmore, Alberta


Project The presence of therapeutic effects as evaluated by listeners’ perception and parental ratings of speech following intensive voice treatment on children with spastic cerebral palsy

Project Summary:  Intensive voice treatment will be provided for children with spastic Cerebral Palsy. Following treatment paired speech samples from the children pre, mid, post and at follow-up will be presented to listeners. Listeners will evaluate speech of the children and select the sample they prefer based on certain characteristics of voice quality. Voice quality here includes characteristics such as loudness and regular variability in pitch. Evaluations will be carried out by parents as well as professional speech language pathologists. Our hypothesis is that listeners will prefer speech samples collected post treatment and at follow-up due to the positive effects of intensive voice treatment on voice quality of these children.

Irene Lowen BSc Neuroscience

University of Lethbridge

Hometown:  Airdrie, Alberta

Thesis The relationship between sensory outcome and both function and quality of life following microvascular radial forearm free flap reconstruction of the tongue (co-supervisor, Dr. Rieger)

Project Summary:  When cancer affects the oral tongue, one option for treatment is the removal of the affected tissue.  Reconstruction with tissue from the radial forearm (called radial forearm free flaps) has become standard. Some more recent reconstruction has included transferring radial forearm free flaps with an associated sensory nerve that will be connected to a sensory nerve in the remaining tongue tissue. There is no research that describes whether the reestablishment of sensation to the tongue affects the speech, chewing abilities and quality of life for these patients. A series of sensory, speaking and chewing tasks were completed by patients and control participants. It was found that some sensations were preserved in the reconstructed aspect of the tongue such as two-point discrimination and light touch. These sensations that require fine discrimination appeared to be more often related to function and quality of life, while those that involved sensation of the whole mouth (e.g., texture) appeared less salient. Although relationships exist between sensation, functional outcomes and quality of life, other factors including the number of natural tooth pairs and a history of radiation therapy play a very important role.

Academic Funding


Walter H. Johns Graduate Fellowship

Province of Alberta Graduate Scholarship

Jason Lang Scholarship

The Sertoma Foundation of Canada Scholarship

RMSA Educational Subsidy GSA Professional Development Grant

J Gordin Kaplan Graduate Student Award

University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine – Travel Subsidy Graduate Student Scholarship Elks and Royal Purple Fund for Children Scholarship 

The Sertoma Foundation of Canada Scholarship

Caritas Health Research Fund Canadian

Elks and Royal Purple Fund for Children Scholarship 

Peer reviewed presentation and publications

Loewen, I., Wallace, D. G., Whishaw, I.Q. (2005) The Development of Spatial Capacity in Piloting and Dead Reckoning by Infant Rats: Use of the Huddle as a Home Base for Spatial Navigation. Developmental Psychobiology 46(4) 350-361.

Sensory Outcomes, Function and Quality of Life Following Tongue Reconstruction. International Congress on Maxillofacial Rehabilitation in Maui, HI. October 2006. First prize for poster competition.

Development of Spatial Navigation: Breaking the Huddle. Canadian Conference on Behaviour and Brain in Fernie, BC. February 2004.