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Meet Amelia Saccomandi

2023 Recipient of the McMurtry Family Undergraduate Research Award

Hometown: West Chester, PA

Major: Communication Science

Project Mentor: Professor Sheila Pratt

What is the purpose of your research project? 

My research study involves assessing the relationship between vocal control during singing and frequency-based music perception in children who wear cochlear implants (CI). Their performance will be compared to that of children and young adults with normal hearing. The purpose of this study is to investigate the role of hearing for vocal control (known as auditory feedback) in young CI users. We plan to do this by first studying their ability to use vocal control while singing, then studying their ability to perceive and segregate frequency-based interleaved melodies.   

Why did you choose to investigate this particular topic? 

I selected this as my research topic for a few reasons. My future goals include working with the pediatric population, and this project allowed me to research children and children’s hearing and feedback abilities. Secondly, I was surprised to find how little research has been done on music processing and production abilities of cochlear implant users, especially children. Therefore, I thought it would be an interesting topic to learn more about, and possibly add to the limited knowledge we have of it.    

What are your future career goals? 

Once I complete my Communication Science undergraduate degree, I plan to attend graduate school to one day become an audiologist. I ideally would love to work in a clinical setting like a hospital or private practice with the pediatric population. 

How has your experience been studying at Pitt Communication Science and Disorders? 

I have loved my time in Pitt SHRS so far! I have had wonderful professors, met great friends and have been presented with endless opportunities. SHRS has many unique aspects that have allowed me to grow immensely in the last few years. SHRS’ Communication Science program has a large variety of research labs which all welcome and encourage undergrad participation. I was able to find a lab that fit my particular interests, pediatric audiology, and have gained incredible experience and knowledge through this lab.  

SHRS also provides the opportunity for students to complete a Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil), a degree I didn’t know existed, let alone something I would be able to pursue, until joining SHRS. The BPhil is an independent research thesis that allows students to create and run their own research project, under the guidance of a chosen mentor, and eventually write and defend a thesis on this research. This unique degree allows undergraduate students to gain invaluable research and professional experience, as it allows the student to take on a very large role in creating, executing and interpreting their own research. My research and BPhil have also been supported through the SHRS Undergraduate Student Summer Research Award I was awarded this past summer. 

Additionally, the support of the CSD Department to participate in the American Speech-Language Hearing Association as a student for the past two years has provided me with invaluable experience attending, learning from and networking at our field’s national convention. Opportunities like these have allowed me to make the most of my undergraduate experience, and I owe them to the mentorship and opportunity SHRS has provided me.    

What does this award mean to you? 

This award means a great deal to me. It allowed me to focus solely on my research project this summer and put it at the top of my priority list, something I struggle to be able to do during the busy fall and spring semesters. This award also showed me that  I am supported not only by my mentor, Professor Sheila Pratt, but by the school as well. This award has allowed me to further develop my professional skills through the written proposal, interview process and eventually the completion of this project, which is projected to be next year. 


Saccomandi began this research in 2023 and her award supported her work in summer 2023. She will finish her research when she earns her BPhil degree in April 2024.  

Jordann AntoanMeet Jordann Antoan

2021 Recipient of the McMurtry Family Undergraduate Research Award
Hometown: Cheltenham, Pennsylvania
Major: Rehabilitation Science
Project Mentor: Professor Elizabeth Skidmore

What is the purpose of your research project?

I wanted to investigate the quality of health care for Black or African Americans and explore potential barriers to their stroke recovery. 

Why did you choose to investigate this particular topic?

As someone who plans to work in stroke rehabilitation, I wanted to learn more about why those who are Black or African American have more strokes and experience worse outcomes after rehabilitation compared to those who are White. When I couldn’t find answers to my questions, I started looking for ways to explore the experiences of this population in more depth. I thought one way to start investigating the reasons for the disparities in stroke outcomes would be to ask Black or African Americans about their stroke journeys and what changes they wanted to see in the health care system. This gave a historically underrepresented population a voice in future changes to stroke management and the quality of health care they might receive. 

What are your future career goals?

Starting in fall 2022, I will be attending Pitt SHRS’ Doctor of Occupational Therapy program. My goal is to work in an outpatient stroke rehabilitation center somewhere close to Philly and my family.

How was your experience pursuing a Bachelor of Philosophy?

Completing the Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) was probably the most rewarding accomplishment of my undergraduate experience. It allowed me to research something I am incredibly passionate about, and it opened so many doors for me in the occupational therapy field. I had the opportunity to work with the Pitt OT Department and meet my future professors and mentors as they helped me develop my project. It was a tough process to create and conduct my first- ever research study, but I learned different avenues I could use to help my community and future patients.  

This summer (2022), I have the opportunity to continue my research beyond the BPhil requirements, submit my work to a rehabilitation journal, present it to my peers and colleagues, and lend my data to other researchers who are investigating similar topics. I am incredibly humbled to have completed this project and I would urge anyone who has a passion they want to pursue to consider completing a BPhil.  

What does this award mean to you?

Not only did this award allow me to continue my research over the summer, but it also gave me the confidence to continue with my project. When I received this award, my research was in its beginning stages, and I was not sure if it would be successful. However, having people believe in my project enough to bestow me the McMurtry Family Undergraduate Research Award assured me that my work is valued in my community. I am grateful to the committee and the McMurtry family for having faith in me and my research. 


Brandon NguyMeet Brandon Nguy

2020 Recipient of the McMurtry Family Undergraduate Research Award
Hometown: South Brunswick, New Jersey
Major: Communication Science
Project Mentor: Assistant Professor Will Evans

What is the purpose of your research project?

My project hopes to address an issue of representation of participants in aphasia studies. By looking back at the aphasia literature from the past decade, we can see if the people we have been testing in our studies truly represent the people whom we are trying to treat in the real world.

Kudos to Brandon for his first-authored publication, published in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology!

Nguy, B, Quique, Y, Cavanaugh, RB, Evans, WS. (in press). Representation in aphasia research: an examination of US treatment studies published between 2009 and 2019. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

Why did you choose to investigate this particular topic?

The results of this project could have a tremendous impact on current and future aphasia research. If there are discrepancies in who we have been treating compared to the real world, then this issue must be addressed to make sure our research and treatments are as effective as possible. In addition, as someone who was born with a physical disability, I want to make sure that everyone is represented in aphasia, or any, research to make sure that our studies can benefit as many people as possible.

What are your future career goals?

One of my career goals is to become a Speech-language Pathologist In the upcoming future. Another career goal I have is to become a director of a research facility that specializes in communication disorders so that I can learn more about them and their treatments.

Why did you choose Pitt SHRS?

Pitt SHRS consists of some of the top leading researchers and medical professionals in the health field. To have the opportunity to work and learn from these individuals was something that inspired me to choose Pitt SHRS as I continue to move along with my career goals.

Did you attend an SHRS summer program? If so, can you tell me which one and what influence it had on you?

During summer 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in the BrainCURE program (Brain and Communication Undergraduate Research Experience) at SHRS. From this research experience, I learned a lot about the current issues researchers are trying to solve in my field and the skills you need to become a great researcher. These include having great leadership, being able to communicate properly with others and to be able to take constructive criticism appropriately. If you are interested in neuroscience and/or communication disorders, then BrainCURE would be a great fit for you!

What does this award mean to you?

It is truly an honor and privilege for me to be the recipient of this year's McMurtry Family Undergraduate Research Award. To have this incredible opportunity shows me how much I have grown, both in my academic career and as a person. Without this award, I would not have been able to move further along with my career goals and to be able to help others in the field of aphasia research.