Where are they now?

More Alumni

Andres E. Carrillo
Aleda Chen
Heidi IglayReger
Roland J. Thorpe
April J. Stull
Tetyana P. Shippee
Lindsay Pitzer
Min-Ah Lee
John Spruill III
Nicholas Turiano
Tim Wright
Oliver Wendt
Jori Sechrist
Megan MacPherson
Kathryn Berlin
Markus Schafer
Lori Ward
Megan Gilligan

Oliver Wendt, PhD

Dr. Oliver Wendt is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, and Educational Studies at Purdue University. His current research investigates the efficacy of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for individuals on the autism spectrum that present with little or no functional speech. Dr. Wendt specializes in single-subject experimental designs and teaches courses on assistive technology, autism, clinical research and severe disabilities. He is first editor of the handbook "Assistive Technology. Principles and Applications for Communication Disorders and Special Education" (together with R. Quist and L. Lloyd).

What do you remember best about your time in the Gerontology Program?

I would like to mention three major events and activities that are among my most favorite memories of the Purdue Gerontology Program:

  1. I was very fortunate to be part of the inaugural group of graduate students that under the mentorship of then-advisor Dr. Janet Wilmoth formed the Purdue Gerontology Student Organization (GSO). GSO provided an excellent venue for me to network with fellow students and also to grow professionally through activities such as the gerontology student poster symposium. And I still remember joyful grill parties in Jessica Kelley-Moore's backyard (now associate professor at Case Western Reserve University) where CALC director Dr. Kenneth Ferraro came in his baseball dress and taught us international students everything about his favorite baseball team (I think it was a team in Chicago, but am not sure, my German nature still is favoring soccer over baseball …).
  2. Among the best courses I have ever taken was Dr. David Waters' class on the Biology of Aging, and I remember the endless discussions we had on generalizing research findings from animal models to human health and behavior. Although I had little to no biomedical background at the time, I was able to keep up in this course and join the very stimulating discussions. Dr. Waters' way of teaching from a very interdisciplinary perspective, with lots of humor, and a strong emphasis on critically appraising current gerontology research was exemplary. Nowadays, I try to incorporate these experiences into my own graduate courses.
  3. I truly enjoyed the invitations to student luncheons with the renowned keynote speakers every fall at the Purdue Gerontology Symposium. It was very inspiring to talk to established scholars and learn how they made a career in gerontology-related fields.

Who were your mentors and what attributes did they have that helped you?

My major professor was Dr. Lyle Lloyd who instilled in me the importance of approaching research in augmentative and alternative communication (my major area) from an interdisciplinary perspective. And the Gerontology Program role-modeled what successful interdisciplinary research and collaboration look like. Furthermore, Dr. Lloyd was very helpful in teaching me very valuable skills in grant-writing, which are essential for obtaining research funding. I was able to fund most of my doctoral studies through internal or external grants and fellowship awards. I would also like to mention the outstanding mentorship provided by Dr. Laurence Leonard and Dr. Lisa Goffman who provided guidance in my cognate area, speech and language disorders. Their deep passion for research and exemplary scholarship motivated me to pursue a research-focused career in communication disorders.

How did you get interested in gerontology?

While finishing my Master's program at the University of Cologne-Germany I worked mostly in adult rehabilitation. My MS thesis focused on augmentative and alternative communication for adults with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neuro-degenerative condition that affects adults later in life. The British physicist Stephen Hawking or former baseball player Lou Gehrig are prominent individuals with ALS. The experiences in working with the ALS community increased my desire to learn more about the aging process; I got interested in the many issues of health and well-being that an aging population encounters when facing age-related conditions.

What experiences did you have at Purdue that helped form your current career?

My training at Purdue helped me to become a better researcher: I learned how to identify critical issues and design sound research to answer those questions. Early experiences in grant writing were extremely helpful to secure internal and external research funding, which is a critical skill for any junior researcher on the tenure track at a research-intensive university. Professional development activities such as publishing in peer-reviewed, first-tier research journals, presenting at conferences, interviewing for faculty positions, and many others prepared me very well for the life on the tenure-track. Gaining teaching experiences at the same time helped me to become an effective instructor. Overall, I feel I received a very comprehensive and well-rounded education at Purdue.

Anything else you would like to add?

I graduated my first doctoral student last summer (Dr. Miriam Boesch – now assistant professor at the University of Northern Texas) and recently published my first textbook on assistive technology for communication disorders. Again, these accomplishments were possible because of the rich and intense training, and the "spirit" for sound research and mentoring that Purdue and the Gerontology program are modeling. I am looking forward to seeing the Purdue Gerontology Program grow further and am very proud to serve as a faculty associate. It has been and still is an amazing experience!