Purdue University Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences: A Brief History

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

The Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences got its start with the first university or college clinic founded in Indiana and has continued to take giant leaps ever since.

In 1935, the Purdue speech and hearing clinic was developed in University Hall to address the issue in which companies were citing that students manifested a noticeable speech and/or hearing disorder as a reason for not hiring Purdue students after interviews. The clinic was created within three months and Max Steer was appointed as director of the clinic. Steer began the first university or college outpatient service in Indiana for children and adults with speech and/or hearing disorders in 1936.

As the clinic grew, the Purdue Speech Department offered a complete course to teach speech correctionists and hearing teachers. The graduate program began in 1940 as part of the Department of English, and the first PhD in speech pathology was awarded in 1949.

In 1959, the speech and hearing clinic was moved to Heavilon Hall, and the new clinic alongside the Speech Pathology and Audiology Research facilities and the Psycho-and-Bio-Acoustic Laboratories received state, national and international attention as a model for other universities.

The Department of Audiology and Speech Science was created in 1963 within the School of Humanities, Social Science and Education with Max Steer as department head, and in 1986 after Steer retired, the clinic in Heavilon Hall was renamed the M.D. Steer Audiology and Speech-Language Center during the department’s 50-year celebration.

The program took off even further when Rachel Stark came to Purdue as the head of the Department of Audiology and Speech Sciences in 1987 and brought her groundbreaking research in understanding babies’ babbling. Under Stark’s leadership the department soared to new levels.

The department was later renamed the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, and joined the newly formed College of Health and Human Sciences in 2010. It moved to Lyles-Porter Hall in 2014, where it resides today, maintaining a national and international reputation as one of the finest academic, clinical and research programs in the field.