August 7, 2009

Tharpe to lead Hearing and Speech Sciences

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Anne Marie Tharpe, Ph.D.

Tharpe to lead Hearing and Speech Sciences

Anne Marie Tharpe, Ph.D., is replacing Fred Bess, Ph.D., as chair of the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences and as associate director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center.

Bess, who has served as chair since 1978, is stepping down to focus on work as director of the National Center for Childhood Deafness and Family Communication, located on the sixth floor of the Bill Wilkerson Center.

He served as director of the Bill Wilkerson Center for more than 20 years, and then became associate director when it merged with the Medical Center in 1997.

“Dr. Tharpe will join distinguished company as a Vanderbilt clinical chair,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who made the announcement on Tuesday.

“I am confident that, like Fred Bess, she will continue to improve the department, embracing the strengths of the entire University while nurturing the excellence and traditions of the Bill Wilkerson Center.”
The search for Bess' replacement had been ongoing for nearly two years.

“She will do a superb job,” Bess said. “She enjoys a national/international reputation in her field and has been well-funded for the past 10 years in research and training programs. She is one of my former students and she will assure we carry on the wonderful traditions of the Center.

“I will say we had several very good candidates from outside and inside the department. I think any one of them would have done a good job.”

Bess led the program to significant growth over the past three decades, with faculty and staff increasing from 15 employees to nearly 180.

The Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences has a rich history; both Vanderbilt's Audiology and Speech Pathology programs are consistently ranked among the nation's very best in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Graduate Schools” rankings.

“My greatest challenges are going to be to honor the rich history of the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences and of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and to continue working to expand our influence within the Medical Center and beyond the Medical Center, nationally and internationally,” said Tharpe, who has been with Vanderbilt since 1978.

“That's the hardest thing, when you already have a top-ranked program, to not take your eye off of that ball and to keep looking forward as well.”

Tharpe, associate director of Education for the National Center for Childhood Deafness and Family Communication, maintains a clinical practice in addition to running a research laboratory and teaching Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology, and Deaf Education graduate students. Most of her research has focused on the early identification and intervention of hearing loss in the pre-school and school-age child.

“What I find interesting when looking at the history of the Bill Wilkerson Center is how much it has grown and yet how much certain important things have stayed the same,” she said.

“We have a rich history of concern about individuals with communication disorders, but our definition of communication disorders has broadened. More than anything, that evolution that catalyzed our expansion, but our mission has remained solid — largely because of the work of Dr. Freeman McConnell, our first director, and then Fred Bess, who succeeded him.”

The national search was chaired by Robert Macdonald, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Neurology. The search committee included Vivien Casagrande, Ph.D., professor of Cell and Developmental Biology; John Gore, Ph.D., Chancellor's University Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering; Kevin Johnson, M.D., associate professor of Biomedical Informatics; Kevin Kelly, M.D., associate professor of Plastic Surgery; Robert Labadie, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Otolaryngology; Wendy Stone, Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics; and Paul Yoder, Ph.D., professor of Special Education.