From Midwest to East Coast: Jean Gordon’s journey to URI

Canada native Jean Gordon, ph.D. was named the chair of the department of communicative disorders at the University of Rhode Island over the summer of 2023. 

Gordon received her bachelor’s, master’s and ph.D. in speech language pathology from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, a university that has been dubbed “the Harvard of Canada.” After obtaining her ph.D., she moved to America and spent a year at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign completing post-doctoral research. She then began working at the University of Iowa, which became her home for the next 22 years.

After spending two decades teaching in the communication sciences and disorders department at the University of Iowa, Gordon decided it was time for a change and began looking for leadership roles at other universities. 

“That was easier for me to do by going to a smaller university, and I think it’s also a more attractive job to be in a smaller university in a smaller department,” Gordon said.

She went on to explain that the University of Iowa is a “big research intensive university,” and while the speech language department was a relatively small department at Iowa, compared to communications disorders programs in the United States, it was “huge.”

Iowa had an undergraduate program, a masters in speech pathology program, a clinical doctorate in audiology program and phD programs that all fell under their communication sciences and disorders department, she explained. 

URI offers an undergraduate degree in communicative disorders and master’s in speech language pathology program, Gordon said, which was one thing that made the University stand out in her search. She’s a speech language pathologist by training, and explained that she liked the idea of focusing on that professional program specifically.

She went on to explain that she plans on using some of the skills and organization methods that were used in the communication disorders department at Iowa in her new role as chair of the department of communicative disorders at URI.

“I’ve played a lot of different roles in Iowa. I was chair of the admissions committee. For many years, I was the faculty liaison for the student organization, I was the director of graduate studies for a few years and a bunch of other committees,” Gordon said. “So I have a bunch of ideas for how things were done at Iowa, where I had a role in making those changes.”

She continued by saying that while she has a lot of big ideas, she’s “in discovery” right now, and is taking student and faculty feedback to determine what is important to them and what changes should be made first.

Gordon has already implemented some small changes to the department, like switching all paper files to digital files. Additionally, she’s already looking at ways to “raise [the communicative disorders programs] profile” to prospective students and prospective speech, language and hearing services clients by highlighting some of the research work that faculty and students are doing in the department. 

Rhode Island and the east coast is quite different from Iowa and the midwest, Gordon said, but she is enjoying living in the Ocean State with her two cats.

So far, she’s been to the beach once and really enjoys visiting Wickford Village in North Kingstown. She’s looking forward to visiting Newport in a couple of weeks, once tourist season dies down and it’s a little quieter. She also enjoys cycling and is looking to discover some bike trails to take rides on.