Dr. Anny Castilla-Earls (right) will use Fredonia’s second NIH grant to study and analyze language impairments in Spanish-speaking children. She will be aided by four graduate students and five undergraduates.
Dr. Anny Castilla-Earls is an enthusiastic researcher and teacher. Her passion is driven by a deep caring for Spanish-speaking children struggling to overcome language difficulties, as well as a desire to remain connected to her Colombian heritage.
Within Fredonia’s Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences, she’s found an environment in which she can excel at both, and that excellence has led her to become Fredonia’s second-ever recipient of a grant from the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The grant, valued at nearly a half-million dollars, will allow Dr. Castilla-Earls to study and analyze language impairments in Spanish-speaking children. The three-year project will have her comparing the language skills of children in Western New York to those from Mexico City.
Castilla-Earls has spent her entire 14-year career studying linguistics and children. She began as a speech-language pathologist in her native country of Colombia, after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from La Universidad del Valle (The University of the Valley), before traveling nearly 2,800 miles to earn her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto.
“While I was a student, I became critically aware of the deficiencies among the available resources for language assessment in Spanish-speaking children,” she recalls. “Attending graduate school in North America introduced me to the unique linguistic conditions of Hispanic children learning two languages, and the complexities of assessing language development in bilinguals.”
Shortly after completing her doctoral degree in 2008, she accepted a tenure-track position at Fredonia. The university was attractive, she says, both because of the strong reputation of the department and its faculty, but also because of the region’s large number of Spanish-speaking people, due to its long history of agriculture and migrant farming.
“I’ve been fortunate to establish some strong relationships within the community since arriving, including the Agribusiness Child Development Center and Fredonia Central Schools,” she says. “I’ve also found the Campus and Community Children’s Center to be a wonderful partner and valuable resource.”
Her publications have focused on language development in monolingual and bilingual children with and without language disorders, with a goal of improving current assessment practices for Spanish-English bilingual children.
“I am very passionate about research that informs clinical practice,” states the department’s child language specialist — and a mother of fraternal twins growing up in a bilingual home.
She teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and is dedicated to creating opportunities for both groups of students to assist her in her research. Five undergraduates and four graduate students will be working in her Child Language Lab.
“There is no computer that can analyze data as thoroughly as a human, so our students are critical to the success of our research,” she attests. “It’s also an excellent way for them to launch their careers and begin developing a portfolio of work of their own.”
When asked if it’s sunk in yet that she’s become the second person in Fredonia’s 188-year history to earn a coveted NIH grant, she credits the Office of Sponsored Programs and Fredonia’s Vice President for Engagement and Economic Development Kevin Kearns, in particular. Dr. Kearns is a highly respected speech pathologist in his own right, with specialties in aphasia and autism, who successfully earned NIH funding at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston before coming to Fredonia as Associate Vice President of Graduate Studies and Research in 2007.
“His guidance was invaluable, and I am so appreciative of all of his time and advice,” she says. “(The grant application and revision process) hasn’t been easy, so I am just so happy that all of that work has finally paid off.”
Still, the magnitude of the achievement is not lost on her. “In order to be selected by NIH, the research has to be fundamentally sound, of course, but they’re also funding the researcher,” she explains. “I’ve been a very active researcher, with several publications and peer-reviewed articles in my career thus far. You have to show the grant reviewers that you can do it (if selected), and I’m happy that I was able to do that.”
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