James Madison University

Passing Along Curiosity

By: Brett Seekford
Posted: April 6, 2015

PHOTO:Dr. Christina  Kuo

Dr. Christina Kuo, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, has only been at JMU for two years, but she already has a grasp on being both a successful scholar and teacher.

Born and educated in Taiwan, Kuo came to the United States to pursue a graduate-level education. “I was looking for a graduate school, and I had the opportunity to go to the University of Wisconsin Madison. That’s what brought me to the states and I like to think it’s serendipitous,” Kuo explained.

Kuo experienced numerous difficulties in adapting to American culture. While she had a good basis in the English language through her classes in linguistics and literature while in Taiwan, she had to adjust to daily living in a different language, such as listening to lectures and even shopping. “I had to pay especially close attention to what they said at the counter when I went to pay in shops,” Kuo laughed. “It was quite the transition.”

She successfully navigated the challenges of being an international student and developed a passion for the field of communication sciences and disorders. “I developed an interest in communication sciences in an atypical way,” she said. After having met a professor in graduate school doing research in the field of speech acoustics, Kuo was fascinated and began studying the nature of speech sounds and how they are produced. She focuses on different factors that affect how a person uses different articulators (e.g., the tongue, jaw) to shape the vocal tract (e.g., the cavity, or tube of air extending from the voice box above the mouth) to produce acoustic signals that listeners perceive as speech sounds.

“Acoustics provides us with the possibility of looking at what the product is of all these movements during speaking and how listeners perceive them,” she elaborated. Kuo’s work focuses more on the speaker, but she remains interested in both aspects of speech science. She is currently completing research using acoustic methods to understand motor control for speaking. This information could help us better understand the mechanism of speaking in healthy persons, and it also has potential implications for populations with speech sound disorders.

Almost all of her research is completed in the Speech Acoustics Lab where she serves as lab director. This feature of her work has led her to infuse elements of research methods into her classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. “Many people are concerned with the ‘how,’ which is important, but research tells us the ‘what,’ and you can’t know ‘how’ without the building blocks, or the ‘what.’” Kuo said. “That’s what I try to teach my students.”

Kuo’s research is aided by both a graduate assistant and an undergraduate honors student who assist her in the lab. “Acoustics work can be tedious because you have to look at so many measurements. Their work is very important,” she explained. “I think students are an important presence because they could raise questions from a different perspective.”

Her teaching has also been enlightening for her students. A professor of an introductory course in the field of communication sciences and disorders, Kuo interacts with many freshmen and sophomore students. She most hopes to emphasize the importance of problem-solving and critical thinking.

“I hope they learn that there are many different ways to find the answer, but it’s important to know where to look and what to evaluate. Those are some of the most important things for an academic environment to nurture,” she explained.

“I try to remind my students to be curious,” Kuo said. “If we stop being curious, we stop asking interesting questions. I think many students are concerned with their careers as future clinicians, but I hope they retain a seed of curiosity because that’s important to have in terms of the further development of the field.”