Purdue SLHS major finds her balance in research

Khalya Dent studies on her laptop and tablet seated in Lyles-Porter Hall.

Khalya Dent, a sophomore studying speech, language and hearing sciences, works on her laptop and tablet in Lyles-Porter HallTim Brouk

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

Still only in her second year at Purdue University, Khalya Dent is balancing two research projects, one of which explores balance in older adults.

The sophomore in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) joined Professor Alexander Francis’ lab in January after jumping into research in the fall as part of the John Martinson Honors College. She’s still working with Bethany McGowan, an associate professor in the Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies, on African American health information-seeking behaviors and how the behaviors influence their children, but Dent has also found a new direction: fall risk in older adults and how they maintain their balance. The research involves the vestibular area of the inner ear, which controls balance.

“I went to a talk and a professor mentioned ‘vestibular audiology,’” Dent recalled. “I had never heard that word before, but it sounded interesting. I didn’t know there was a science behind balance.”

Dent will continue her work for McGowan, but the balance research opportunity has the scholar from Hammond, Indiana, enthusiastic to learn more about her major, which she chose thanks in part to an older cousin in Michigan who opened her own speech pathology practice and also to meeting SLHS Clinical Professor Chenell Loudermill during a Purdue Women of Color in Healthcare Association meeting.

“I was really excited because I didn’t know we actually had any Black faculty members within SLHS,” Dent said. “At the time, I wasn’t declared an SLHS major. For me, meeting her told me that maybe I could do this major.”

Before joining Francis’ lab, Dent took the opportunity to volunteer in the M.D. Steer speech, language and hearing clinics, mainly to observe students, staff and faculty interacting with real clients from the community as they got their hearing, speech, swallowing or balance tested and analyzed. One clinical experience solidified her SLHS interest: watching a cochlear implant checkup. The appointment was with a young girl, about 6 years old, who had been living with the implant for years already. The doctor had treated the young patient her entire life and even treated the patient’s mother when she was a child.

“I was blown away by the patient’s ability to articulate her needs throughout the appointment and how the doctor listened and adapted as needed,” Dent recalled. “I remember calling my mom right after and telling her about it and how it impacted how I saw the doctors in our clinic. ‘These are the doctors I want to teach me to be a doctor, mom.’ I’ve learned so much from them already, and I can’t wait to be in the classroom and clinic with them.”

‘Throwing spaghetti’

Dent said she initially studied pharmacy at Purdue but switched to the College of Health and Human Sciences. Her early approach of “throwing spaghetti at the wall” to see what metaphorically stuck served Dent well in meeting fellow students, professors, mentors and mentees. She was open to all opportunities and stayed at Purdue during summer 2022 to work with a high school to college transition program. There, she mentored several high school students getting an early jump on their college careers. Dent mentors first-year Honors College and Exploratory Studies students as well.

Getting involved with organizations and clubs serve most undergraduates well, and Dent is no exception. She has benefited from joining the Purdue Student Academy of Audiology, and she is also an officer in SLHS’ diversity, equity and inclusion program. With confidence, Dent said she found her academic connection in SLHS.

“Everyone from faculty and staff to the students here seems to share a passion and belief for what our department does for the world,” she stated.

‘Give yourself grace’

Chenell Loudermill

Chenell Loudermill John Underwood

Dent has sage wisdom for her mentees or any new Purdue student.

“Understand that you’re going to make mistakes, and it’s OK as long as you’re learning from those mistakes and taking accountability,” Dent said. “You play a really big part in the things that happen. What you decide to do, there will always be a consequence one way or the other, but give yourself grace while still holding yourself accountable.”

Among Dent’s goals for the second half of her Purdue undergraduate studies include getting even more involved on campus and continuing her research balancing act.

Loudermill is confident in Dent’s abilities, especially in research.

“I think it is fantastic that Khalya has been involved in multiple research projects. Getting valuable experiences such as these are so important early on,” Loudermill said. “The field of speech, language and hearing sciences provides many avenues for one to positively impact individuals by improving the quality of life and helping people thrive, be it through research or practice.”