Emma Gausman earns Purdue’s 2022 Flora Roberts Award for top female senior

Emma Gausman

Emma Gausman

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

An impressive mix of academic success, leadership, character and service earned Emma Gausman the 2022 Flora Roberts Award, which goes to the most outstanding female senior at Purdue University.

A double major in the departments of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and Psychological Sciences, the scholar from Batesville, Indiana, overcame the intimidation of transitioning from her town of 6,651 to a world-renowned university of nearly 50,000 students. The result — a thriving Purdue undergraduate experience.

“I thought I’d never make a name for myself here. It’s such a big school,” Gausman remembered. “But I was able to figure out what was important to me and got involved in those things.”

Gausman will return to Purdue when she enters the 3rd ranked speech-language pathology graduate program in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences in the country this fall.

With a career goal of becoming a speech-language pathologist in the works, Gausman explained that helping those with speech and language difficulties improve their skills in communication is an unforgettable feeling. She experienced this early in her Purdue career when she volunteered in Lafayette schools as a speech-language pathologist classroom assistant. “The people who work in this field really care about their patients and clients and give them that voice that allows them to connect with loved ones while also giving them that autonomy to make decisions for themselves by giving them the different tools to communicate,” said Gausman, a member of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and a Purdue College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) ambassador.

When the COVID-19 pandemic overturned education as we knew it, Gausman’s passion for helping others continued over the phone. She joined Mental Health America’s Crisis Center in Lafayette as a specialist. She received 36 hours of training — learning empathy, silent listening, crisis intervention and suicide prevention skills — before taking her first call from someone during a desperate situation. After six months, Gausman was a trainer at the center.

“I spoke to people who were in crisis. I had to guide the conversation in the way where they felt heard but also help them sort through their thoughts and feelings and empower them to come up with a solution that they felt was best for them,” she said.

While learning speech-language pathology along with the neuroscience side of the field in her psychology classes, Gausman picked up American Sign Language (ASL). The student’s prowess multiplied quickly when she was hired as a teaching assistant in lecturer Sharon Brickowski’s ASL classes in the Purdue College of Liberal Arts. The remote experience helped make Gausman more accountable, and she gained more confidence during a chaotic time of lockdowns, virtual classes and online assignments.

Gausman said her research experience with Associate Professor Natalya Kaganovich’s Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory has been key in her academic experience at Purdue. Getting to apply methods learned in classes into real studies was impactful and helped her decide to stay at Purdue for a master’s degree.

While Gausman was only in her lab for one year, Kaganovich quickly recognized her young research assistant as a “truly exceptional student.”

“Her intellectual ability, maturity, reliability and independent thinking skills exceed those of most graduate and undergraduate students I have interacted with during the last 10 years,” Kagonvich said. “During the last month or so, she has also volunteered to learn how to process collected EEG (electroencephalography) data for display in figures and for statistical measurements. Emma is an extremely fast learner and is already comfortable with the new software and can process files semi-independently. It is rare to see undergraduate students who are so self-motivated and driven to learn new things.” 

Like all recent students, Gausman was part of hundreds of Zoom calls and meetings the last two years. A recent academic advisor meeting was one she will never forget. It turned into a surprise announcement that she won the Flora Roberts Award. Gausman became a bit suspicious when 50 of Gausman’s closest friends, colleagues and family members crashed the chat to offer their congratulations and love.

“I was speechless,” she recalled. “I felt really appreciated by Purdue, and being recognized for all these things I’ve done for the past four years is really nice. It was really heartwarming, and I felt very supported and encouraged in everything I’ve done here and everything I plan on doing.”

The award is named after Flora Roberts of the Purdue Class of 1887. The recipient receives a $2,000 award, medallion and her name permanently inscribed on the award marker on the Purdue Engineering Mall. From Batesville to being a part of Boilermaker history, Gausman is thankful for her Purdue experience and this chance to step back and appreciate her fulfilling career in West Lafayette.

“The high standard that Purdue holds their students to really pushed me,” Gausman said. “I’ve worked really hard to figure out a balance and figure out what’s important to me. Building that confidence and finding that balance is something I’m really proud of.”