Alumni Spotlight—Megan-Brette Hamilton
- Megan-Brette Hamilton
- Department of Speech and Hearing Science
- Alumni Spotlight
- College of Applied Health Sciences
- University of Illinois
Alumni of the College of Applied Health Sciences have myriad career options thanks to the tremendous diversity of programs. We periodically will put the spotlight on an alum to find out what they're doing now, what experiences they had and what AHS means to them. This week, we talk to Megan-Brette Hamilton, an SHS alum who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at Auburn University.
Q: Why did you pick SHS?
A: I remember writing my personal statement in 2011 and, as you do, you write the first part as a general statement and then address a specific school for the latter part. As I was writing the latter part of my personal statement for University of Illinois, I realized how much the school aligned with what I was looking for; reputation, professors, university campus setting. It helped that my aunt, someone who had been in the field for decades before me, encouraged me to choose UIUC, and that both of my parents earned degrees from UIUC. Finally, I got advice from a professor at another university to choose my program according to the person I was going to work with for four plus years. And then I found (former SHS Associate Dept. Head) Laura DeThorne. I emailed her, she and I had a phone conversation and I became excited about the work she was doing in her lab and the idea of learning from her. After that, I was convinced I needed to go to AHS/SHS. From day 1, Dr. DeThorne was a strong advocate for me and as a result I received the Graduate College Distinguished Fellowship Award. To be honest, not having to pay for school, that also helped me make my decision.
Q: Which professors had the most impact on you?
A: As I mentioned before, Dr. DeThorne was an advocate for me from day 1. She wasn’t just my advisor, she was someone who valued my clinical background and my prior experience. We eventually formed a very strong friendship and collegial relationship, and we still collaborate. I also was impacted by Dr. Julie Hengst. Not only was she a committee member of mine for 2 of my projects, but because she also had an extensive clinical career before academia, she was able to speak to me in a way that disarmed me about leaving a job where I was a master clinician to re-learning how to be a student. Dr. Robin L. Jarrett was also someone who has had a huge impact on me. I worked in her lab in a different department across campus. In order for me to be the kind of researcher I am today, I needed to learn other ways of doing research from her perspective. The field of CSD often uses quantitative methods and is predominantly White. Working with Dr. Jarrett helped me to learn about qualitative methods from a sociological perspective and understand academia from someone like me, a Black woman, who also was a full professor. Finally, working with Dr. Cynthia Johnson made a long-lasting impact on me. She was a constant source of encouragement as a growing researcher and I learned first-hand from her about how our field and academia had changed throughout the years.
Q: What course did you most enjoy?
A: You have to remember that I earned a degree that allowed/encouraged me to explore classes in other departments. The way I look at my journey at that stage of my life was to take what I knew about my field in the 17 years I’d been in it and then add to it other content areas to enhance the impact I wanted to have on the field of CSD. All that to say, Language, Identity, and the Politics of Schooling taught by Dr. Anne Haas Dyson in the College of Education was a course I really enjoyed. I loved this course because it brought together all of the areas I was passionate about, language, culture, education, and communication. It was a class that wasn’t afraid to talk about race and class and dialects. And it used qualitative methods:) It reminded me why I decided to return to school at the ripe old age of 34, lol.
Q: Did you enter AHS knowing your career path, or did AHS help you decide?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I entered into the PhD program at age 34, after having had a first career as a practicing speech-language pathologist. I entered the program knowing that I was going to have three outcomes; 1) I was going to learn about some amazing content areas that I’d never been privy to, 2) I was going to learn how to do research, and 3) I was going to earn my doctorate. After that, I wasn’t sure what I’d do. I think being in the program prepared me well for my next steps even though I wasn’t sure what they’d be exactly. I ended up going into academia and constantly call myself “the accidental professor,” lol. I also didn’t know where my research focus would end up when I first started. I originally entered the program to study language processing differences with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience and ended up studying cultural-linguistic diversity with a focus on African American English. To be honest, being in the program helped me see a gap in our field that I could fill, so that’s what I’ve been working on ever since.
Q: Did your AHS experience lead to your current job?
A: Yes. I earned a doctorate from a research-intensive university in a department where I was taught how to do research and provided opportunities to teach and supervise. The skills I acquired in the program, including opportunities across departments and disciplines, allowed me to confidently apply for a tenure-track assistant professor position; which is my current job.
Q: What was your favorite on-campus experience?
A: As a daily enjoyment, I really loved working with my PhD classmates. We were from all different backgrounds and studied so many different areas of communication. We learned so much from each other about life and our field. As a one-time kind of experience, I have to say that it was when I ended up working with a wonderful group of doctoral students from the College of Education and being awarded an internal grant. We used it to put on a 2-day workshop aimed at reimagining education for youth in and beyond the classroom. We brought in Drs. Geneva Smitherman, Ana Celia Zentella, H. Samy Alim, and David E. Kirkland. I loved being around all of those intellectual minds and inserting my communication sciences and disorders perspectives into their conversations of education and language.
Q: What does AHS mean to you?
A: I saw AHS as a place that provided me with opportunities to connect with a variety of people and to grow as a researcher and educator. As I said earlier, I originally entered the program to study language processing differences and ended up studying cultural-linguistic diversity. The beauty is that AHS was a place that allowed me to do either. As a result, I was able to become a researcher with a strong interdisciplinary focus who impacts clinical practice within the field of speech-language pathology and beyond.
Dr. Megan-Brette Hamilton is an assistant professor at Auburn University and an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist (SLP)/communication specialist. Prior to academia, Dr. Hamilton worked as an SLP for 10 years in New York City, the largest school district in the U.S., where most of her caseload consisted of African American and Hispanic children. Currently, her research focuses on the classroom/educational and clinical experiences of speakers of other dialects of English, with a particular focus on African American English-speaking children and adults. Her passion lies in exploring the intersection of culture, language/dialect, communication, and literacy. Dr. Hamilton’s work also focuses on the cultural-linguistic competence and perspectives of professionals and students working with culturally-linguistically diverse populations. Through her work, she engages with such professionals by educating them on the importance of recognizing and validating language variations, culture, and identity; thereby raising one’s cultural-linguistic competence. Dr. Hamilton is the host of the Honeybee Connection podcast, author of Successful Strategies for Classroom Communication, and owner of www.meganbrettehamilton.com where she blogs and provides resources.