Dr. Brenda Bender didn’t have any interest in speech pathology in 1986 as a freshman. Twenty nine years and two degrees later, she is the teacher of the year in the communication sciences and disorders department.
“I wanted to make a difference in how we educate masters level speech pathologists,” she said.
Bender, associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, was named Teacher of the Year at graduation last May. When she was announced as the recipient of the award at graduation, her students gave her a standing ovation. Even today, several months after graduation, several of her former students warmly recall Dr. Bender’s teaching prowess and enthusiastically emphasize her kindness and patience.
“She was someone who would always go above and beyond to help her students,” said Becca Clay, who graduated from the Speech-Language Pathology masters program in the spring and was Dr. Bender’s graduate assistant for two years. “She was an extra-mile teacher, for sure.”
After getting her masters at the University of North Texas in 1994, she worked in the speech pathology field for about five years before she decided to pursue her doctorate at the University of Memphis.
The speech pathology field has a shortage of doctorate level and Ph.D.-trained faculty, Bender said.
After the department chair at ACU contacted Bender and offered her a position, she came onto faculty at ACU in 2001. She started teaching in January of 2002, just after ACU established the graduate program. She served as the department chair from 2006 through spring 2015, while teaching graduate classes, investigating speech disorders and continuing to treat patients.
“Teaching is my vocation,” Bender said. “I come from a long line of teachers, so as a speech pathologist you use those skills of teaching with patients. I think that my job is to help another person to understand the world and themselves better than when they came in the door that day.”
She relies on a multitude of techniques to achieve her goals with her patients, and she also utilizes a variety of activities in the classroom to help her students. Not only is she honest with her students, she also uses fun, hands-on activities to engage her students, Clay said.
Dr. Bender’s teaching philosophy is driven by her belief that we are all “created for communication” and that “everyone in the classroom is learning.” These two guiding principles mean that she engages her students every day and learns alongside them in every class.
“Not only is she an incredible professor, but she demonstrates the compassion necessary to engage the world as a passionate speech-language pathologist,” wrote Jordan Hanson, who graduated in the spring after receiving a Master’s of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. “She instilled the idea of compassionately loving our patients and going the extra mile for them.”
The new department chair Dr. Terry Baggs highlighted Dr. Bender’s non-traditional teaching and departmental insightfulness.
“She has not only been a good administrator, she demonstrates excellent teaching skills,” Dr. Terry Baggs said. “She has been a good example to all of us on how we can think outside the box in terms of teaching.”
Both Clay and Hanson emphasized Dr. Bender’s classroom vigor and authenticity, and Dr. Baggs agreed.
“I think that’s one of the reasons she’s teacher of the year, because she’s not a traditional teacher,” he said. “She helps a student not only gain the knowledge, but the skills they need to be a speech pathologist.”
Dr. Bender will continue to open her students’ minds, tune their ears to speech and treat patients in need of her help. But her impact is not just educational. Because she determinedly invests in her students, she also makes a lasting impact on them.
“We are all proud of her,” Clay said. “I miss her and wish she was still my professor.”