Seeing the “aha!” on the face of a student who feels suddenly inspired; hearing students relate classroom concepts to something from their own lives; getting asked a really tough question that shows a student’s comprehension of course material: These are the moments that Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Shelley Velleman looks forward to each day, and the reasons for her students’ gratitude and admiration.
Dr. Velleman was selected to receive a 2020 UVM Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award, which recognizes faculty for excellent instruction, innovation in teaching methods and ability to motivate and challenge students.
Velleman teaches undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in clinical phonetics and speech development in children. Her students participate with her in research that seeks to identify and remediate motor speech, phonological and literacy difficulties associated with neurodevelopmental syndromes, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome and 7q11.23 Duplication syndrome. A Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Velleman frequently presents at research conferences and symposiums around the world.
“I care deeply about my subject matter and my main goal is to pass that feeling on,” Velleman said. “I try to inspire students by always asking myself, ‘Why should they care about this? How will this contribute to their professional success?’ Whether it be a five-minute in-class exercise, a semester-long multi-part project, or even a thought-provoking question on an exam, I strive to make the material relatable so that each student can find their own “hook” to learning and in turn contribute to everyone else’s learning — including my own.”
Undergraduate students appreciate Velleman’s easy-going nature and her use of visuals, analogies and personal stories to bring ideas to life.
“Dr. Velleman has a plethora of examples of her travels and studies in other cultures, which is so interesting to hear about as a student,” said Lydia D'Antonio, Communication Sciences and Disorders ‘19. “She is animated and lively while teaching. Her vast amount of knowledge across pediatric speech disorders and linguistics, great sense of humor, approachable personality and animated nature get students engaged and excited about the topic.”
In graduate level classes on speech sound disorders, Velleman includes clinical simulations to give students opportunities to integrate their learning into real-life scenarios. The simulations engage students in role-playing with standardized patient families (actors), providing an opportunity to practice skills and develop deeper understanding of family-centered care. Creative learning experiences like this stimulate students’ curiosity and self-reflection, said Claudia Abbiati, an Interprofessional Health Sciences Ph.D. candidate who works closely with Velleman.
“Dr. Velleman’s innovation and creativity inspire students to ask questions and participate freely and frequently,” Abbiati said. “As a mentee, she frequently checks in with me to learn how I’m doing not only as a student and researcher, but as a person. She provides high quality advice and guidance, setting expectations high but meeting me where I am to ensure I achieve them. I hope to become a clinical supervisor and professor just like her.”
Faculty colleagues also feel inspired by Velleman’s teaching style and depth of knowledge.
“I have always been quite impressed with Dr. Velleman as a teacher-scholar who so effectively uses her research and understanding of the discipline to make applications in the classroom which are creative, insightful, and meaningful. She facilitates students’ thinking and guides them through their learning process,” said Patricia Prelock, UVM Provost and Senior Vice President and a renowned expert on the nature and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.