Professor Rick Welland reflects on his time at Brock

1. What are your reflections on your time at Brock University?

By the time I retire on June 30, 2022, I will have been at Brock University for 25 years! Much has changed at Brock (and in the world) in that time. The most obvious changes to Brock University are physical. When I started here, there was no East Campus, Cairns’ Family Health & Bioscience Research Complex, or Plaza Building. There were far fewer student residences and on-campus parking was, depending on where you managed to find it, either very inexpensive or free! Times have certainly changed!

The Department of Applied Linguistics itself has undergone many changes over the years. When I started here full time in 1997, the Department was already known to me; I had been a part-time instructor before that. At that time, the Department had English as a Second Language (ESL) and Japanese and Chinese language courses. (It didn’t have the American Sign Language [ASL] courses it has now.) The Department was then called the Department of Applied Language Studies, was part of the Faculty of the Humanities, and occupied rather cramped quarters in the Mackenzie Chown ‘A Block’. The Department already had a history of offering academic streams in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) and Communication Disorders (CD), but it had no full-time faculty with Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) credentials.

I was the first Speech-Language Pathologist to accept a full-time faculty position at Brock University. That opportunity was made possible by the visionary work of past faculty members, such as Professors Glen Irons, John Sivell, and Hedy McGarrell, who developed and advocated for a fledgling Communication Disorders stream. CD stream students were already quite successful at gaining admission to the highly competitive graduate programs in Speech-Language Pathology in Canada and the United States. But, clinically relevant courses taught by non-SLPs lacked authenticity and courses taught by a revolving cadre of part-time instructors lacked consistency. Moreover, some graduate schools found it difficult to judge whether CD stream courses were truly equivalent to their prerequisites and few admissions committees recognized part-time instructors as qualified to write academic reference letters.

My early years at Brock were not easy. Many faculty then (especially in the Humanities) regularly taught five or six half-courses (or equivalent), leaving little time to pursue scholarship. I had a dissertation to complete, articles to write, and conference presentations to make. I was also involved in committee work (both on and off campus) and I had three young children that needed my attention at home. Life was, to say the least, busy!

But, over time, life at Brock improved. On a personal level, I was promoted and granted tenure. My children grew and were, by my recollection, happy.

More generally, faculty across campus were assigned four half-course (or equivalent) teaching loads, more and more graduate programs sprouted up, and Brock’s reputation as a first-choice university began to grow as the course offerings expanded and more of its researchers won success in the highly-competitive grant application process. The MA in Applied Linguistics (TESL) was our Department’s initial contribution to the growing list of graduate programs at Brock.

The three years (2004-2007) I served as Department Chair were particularly eventful. In 2004, I was diagnosed with younger-onset Parkinson Disease. The news of having a progressive neurological condition, especially one that would likely affect communication, was a shock! At the time, I had no idea how quickly or how slowly the disease might progress. Fortunately, due to my neurologist’s excellent care (and perhaps “good genes”), the Parkinson disease has progressed very slowly. Unfortunately, given the combined effects of my disability, my psychological reaction to it, my teaching load, and the administrative demands of being Chair, I put publications and grant applications on the back burner. That decision had negative consequences later in my career.

Nevertheless, there were several highlights to my time as Chair. For instance, the Department moved to its current location in the ‘D Block’ of Mackenzie Chown. That was an exciting time, and so full of promise! The move gave us more office space and much-needed laboratory spaces. We revised the curriculum of the CD stream significantly to create two majors: Speech and Language Sciences; and Hearing Sciences (now combined as Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences). We also formalized what we’d been doing for non-majors on a case-by-case basis to create two post-baccalaureate certificate programs: Speech and Language Sciences; and Hearing Sciences (now also combined as Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences). These curricular changes helped to make our courses more transparent to graduate school admissions committees, which, coupled with the uniqueness of the programs, helped with student recruitment. We even tried our hand at developing a post-baccalaureate certificate program for Communication Disorders Assistants! (Oh well! You win some; you lose some!) Finally, we hired new tenure-track faculty members, two of whom were Speech-Language Pathologists.

Over the years, I’ve had the honour and pleasure to work with many fine colleagues. Some have left for other (sometimes greener) pastures; others have retired. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with many wonderful staff members at Brock, both closely within the Department and on committees from all over campus.

I’ve also taught some of the best students of whom any University would be proud. Year after year, I’ve felt honoured to share in our graduates’ success at gaining competitive admission to graduate programs in SLP and Audiology across Canada, in the US, the UK, and Australia. It was over 40 years ago that I experienced that same thrill and I’ve never forgotten it!

Many former students have become clinical colleagues, some of whom I’ve met again at professional conferences, with whom I correspond on social media, or I now include among my friends. Some former students have completed (or are now pursuing) doctoral studies and have launched (or will soon be launching) their own careers as academics. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how proud I am of our students that go on to post-graduate college programs for Communicative Disorders Assistants (CDAs) in Ontario. They should know that they too fulfill an important role in providing communication health care to Canadians.

Finally, I have three very special memories of my years at Brock University. First, I was humbled and honoured to receive the inaugural Faculty of Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award, an award that required a great deal of work by the students that nominated me. For that, I will always be grateful. Second, when my eldest daughter, Dara, graduated from Brock (PSYC 2007), not only was I able to watch proudly as she walked across the dais, but I was given the great privilege of hooding her! That was a truly fine moment! Last, Leona Volterman (our long-serving Administrative Assistant) and I had the privilege of celebrating with former student, Ms.Tricia Pokorny (LING 1995), as she received her Distinguished Alumna Award in 2012. Leona and I had nominated Tricia because we believed she deserved special recognition for her perseverance – after becoming totally blind in her 20’s – in pursuing a university education, for later creating her own position as the first Coordinator of Diversity and Special Accommodations at Casino Niagara, and then advancing to the position of Senior Manager for Accessibility at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. Tricia is living proof of what, with a little imagination and chutzpah, graduates of the Department of Applied Linguistics can accomplish!

2. What are you doing next?

Sometime this Summer, I plan to move to Victoria, BC. My upcoming move, in fact, is what prompted my retirement from Brock. So, I’ll probably continue to work, in some capacity for the next few years. I might do some consulting, or I might write a textbook on the anatomy and physiology of speech production. (After 20+ years of teaching it, I might know a thing or two about the topic!) Then again, I’ve always wanted to write fiction. So, who knows?

3. To what are you looking forward in retirement?

I’m looking forward to spending more time with my fiancée and having more time to pursue my many hobbies. I enjoy photography, drawing, painting, reading, and playing guitar. I have quite the list of books to read and songs to learn! I’m also looking forward to keeping more physically active through ballroom dancing, cycling, and hiking.