Beth Foley Q&A

Beth Foley, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Utah State, speaks during an interview on Thursday afternoon. (John Zsiray/Herald Journal)

Utah State University Dean Beth Foley was a speech pathologist for Boston-area public schools right out of college, but it wasn’t until her work with a severely mentally retarded woman — who later became a disabilities advocate — that she changed her career path.

As a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts in speech-language pathology, Foley helped the once-institutionalized woman learn to read and spell.

“It was meeting her and realizing that people look at individuals with severe disabilities and make judgments about what they can or can’t do — and how wrong they can be about that person,” said Foley, dean of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at USU. “It was pretty life-changing, and I changed to a career in assistive technology. ... For me, giving people that voice kind of became my mission.”

Now, as dean of the college for the past four years, Foley is continuing her mission of helping persons with disabilities — like with the new “Aggies Elevated” program that is offering eight students with intellectual disabilities a chance to have the college experience.

Foley earned three degrees from the University of Massachusetts — two in communication disorders and a Ph.D. in speech-language pathology. She has worked at USU since 1993, serving as an associate professor, full professor, department head, interim dean and dean — a post she’s held since 2010.

Foley began her career at Mashpee Public Schools in Mashpee, Mass. After her stint as a speech language pathologist at the Communication Enhancement Clinic in Boston Children's Hospital, she worked at Southern Connecticut State University as a professor for a few years before coming to Logan.

Foley sat down in her office with The Herald Journal earlier this week to talk about her job as dean, some new programs in the college, and her early work as a speech pathologist.

Q: What’s it been like to be dean of the College of Education and Human Services? It’s a pretty popular college.

A: It’s a popular college; it’s a large college — it has eight departments and several research centers. It’s very successful, and we have a great national ranking (in U.S. News & World Report), which we’re proud of. In external funding, our faculty has averaged about $40 million a year over the last five years.

Q: How would you describe the role as dean? Was it what you thought it would be?

A: I didn’t know! (laughs) I remember asking the former dean, Carol Strong, to describe what the job would be like. She had a hard time describing it because it involved so many things. We’re the chief academic officers for the college; we’re looking at initiatives for the college and directions that we want to take it.

Q: What are some things you’re most proud of over the last few years?

A: Sometimes it’s hard to point to specific accomplishments, since so much is ongoing, but one thing we did is start a new program for a residential college experience for students who have intellectual disabilities called “Aggies Elevated.” We accepted the first cohort this fall. More students were interested than we could accept.

We have a plan to accept more students, but in order to do that, we need to have more established funding. We’d like to have 40 students in the program at any given time. We’d like to create a model that other universities across the state could emulate so that students — wherever they live — could have these opportunities.

Q: Distinguish that program because you also have the Center for Persons with Disabilities. I guess you’ve never had a program before where students with intellectual disabilities can have the campus experience?

A: That’s what distinguishes it; there isn’t another program like it in the state because of the residential component.

I want them to have a college experience, like all of our students have. A lot of that is identifying your strengths, identifying job possibilities, really building on strengths for adult life — plus all of the social things. A lot of students with disabilities are often excluded from social and community experiences. It’s important that they’re fully participating.

From my perspective, this is a social justice issue. In the 1970s, we were still institutionalizing people with disabilities. Attitudes about people with disabilities have changed over time, and as we want opportunities for people of other races or religions, we want equal opportunities for people with disabilities.

I have met with some of (the Aggies Elevated students) and their parents, but not all.

Q: What was that like?

A: I’ve been impressed with the students I’ve met. They’re very articulate about what they want from the college experience. I appreciate the support that their parents are giving them, encouraging them to be independent and develop their own talents. If the motivation to be independent isn’t there, then they won’t get as much out of the experience as they would otherwise.

Q: What are some other new initiatives going on with the college?

A: We’re raising funds for a new Clinical Services Building. What we’re going to do is bring together all of the human service discipline training programs in the college — training speech-language pathologists, audiologists, marriage and family therapists, health educators and so on. Right now they’re located in eight or 10 buildings across campus. We thought it’d be better to bring them all together under one roof. In that way, we’ll provide better services.

This can be a resource for not only students but the community as well. It’s a great concept. We serve 4,000 to 5,000 people a year in clinics associated with those programs. We really reach out to people who are uninsured or people in low-income situations. We do it through our graduate training program, so the students provide these services to the community.

Q: When will this building be open?

A: We’re the second priority for Utah State; the first is the new Biological Sciences Building. We might make it through with funding in the upcoming legislative session. We’re seeking a third of the funding from the Legislature, a third from college resources and a third from private donations, so we’re hard at work.

So it could (open) within a year. We’re all very excited and committed to the concept, and I think it will increase the quality of research in the human service discipline and the quality of care we can provide people.

Q: You’re from the East Coast, so what made you stay at USU for 20 years?

A: I am; I grew up near Boston. When I came here in 1993, I only intended to stay one year. Almost immediately being part of the department, I was impressed with the quality of the program. I fell in love with the atmosphere at Utah State; it’s much more collegial than what I’ve been exposed to before. Utah State is a place where you can have opportunities.

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kopsahl@hjnews.com

Twitter: KevJourno

Kevin Opsahl is a staff writer and features editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at 435-752-2121 ext. 1016 or by email at kopsahl@hjnews.com

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