MSHA members in action.

Dr. Off

Dr. OffDr. Off is recipient of the 2016 Montana State Clinical Achievement Award.  She exemplifies the spirit of this award.

Dr. Off provides high-quality research-based services to persons with aphasia in an intensive clinic that may be seen in a large city, but rarely in a rural community.  Her patients have benefited greatly from the services offered.  She really cares for the whole person and his or her environment, not simply “fixing” a disorder, as can be seen through her unique therapeutic model.  Caregivers are incorporated into the program, they are offered social supports, and counseling services.  Within this treatment approach, Dr. Off’s research involves assessment and treatment efficacy of adults with acquired neurological disorders with an emphasis on language recovery and rehabilitation following stroke.  She is particularly interested in the correlation between behavioral outcomes and the underlying structural and functional neuroplastic changes of the brain during rehabilitation from stroke.

On of the most important parts of Dr. Off’s work is her role and mentorship with students.  First, Dr. Off provides clinical education and models best clinical practices with students from the University of Montana.  In turn, these students are now working across the state and providing high-quality aphasia services on a larger scale, not just in Missoula.

Second, one of the skills that we most admire about Dr. Off is her ability to not only engage students in clinic, but also clinical research.  Dr. Off maintains an active clinical research lab with both undergraduate and graduate student researchers and provides an outstanding research culture that generates great clinical research enthusiasm by the next generation of researchers.  Dr. Off is a prolific student mentor.  She and her students have presented 18 research talks at the state and national levels and they been recognized with state and national awards.  One of her mentees, Jenna Griffin was awarded an NIH-NIDCD fellowship to participate at the Clinical Aphasiology Conference, a competitive and prestigious organization.  Dr. Off’s undergraduate students were awarded top honors at the University Of Montana Conference for Undergraduate Research in Spring of 2015.  Her students have also been recognized by our state association.

Furthermore, Dr. Off is changing the landscape of aphasia services through her collaborations with researchers from top national institutions including Lisa Milman at Utah State University and Carolyn Baylor at the University of Washington.  Dr. Off also collaborates across the University of Montana campus and is growing a network in inter-professional education.  She collaborates with Chuck Leonard in association with the Neural Injury Center for an interdisciplinary approach to rehabilitation. Her research has been recently funded through a Clinical Translational Research Infrastructure Network (CTR-IN) mini grant.  Overall, Dr. Off’s “reach” is extraordinary in the field of aphasia rehabilitation!!

Dr. Off humbly shares directorship of the Big Sky Aphasia Program (BSAP) with UM alum, Jenna Griffin.  She credits Annie Kennedy (former co-director and friend) for initiating the program.  We believe that Dr. Off’s collaboration, research orientation, and leadership helped this program grow to its current model.  Catherine Off is the heart of BSAP!  From the initial inception, Dr. Off was instrumental in bringing a clinical research vision and interdisciplinary programming.  Dr. Off has shown wonderful skills in promoting the program, which has also led to the program’s growth.  It has been featured in popular media on Montana Public Radio, the Missoulian, the Kaimin, and Vision Magazine, and also through peer-reviewed publications.  Dr. Off’s leadership has pushed this program to reach capacity, currently hold a waiting list, and attract clients from out-of-state.  Dr. Off’s program provides a much needed service and also a cutting edge training opportunity for our students.

Overall, Catherine Off is an exceptional clinician, mentor, teacher, researcher and collaborator.

Jennifer Schoffer Closson

Jenn ClossenJennifer Schoffer Closson was the 2015 recipient of the ASHA Clinical Achievement Award.  Ms. Schoffer Closson was nominated for the substantial work and meaningful contribution she has made to the treatment of autism in our state.

Autism awareness is often depicted with a logo involving puzzle pieces. Ms. Schoffer Closson put her knowledge and clinical skills in the area of autism on our state and identified key pieces missing from the puzzle. Specifically, she saw the need for bringing the highest quality, evidence based practice training to pre-service and practicing professionals. Over the past three years she has worked tirelessly and collaboratively to successfully put these pieces into place.  As a result, our entire state is better able to recognize, value and use evidence based practice (EBP) in the treatment of autism.

When Ms. Schoffer Closson joined the Communicative Sciences and Disorders (CSD) department at the University of Montana in the fall in 2011, the CSD program was relatively new and growing rapidly.  She quickly identified the need for education and training in the area of autism. After an academic year of acclimation, she was ready to put her creativity and knowledge to work.

Looking at autism education in Montana, Ms. Schoffer Closson recognized three areas of need: 1) undergraduate education and intervention opportunities, 2) graduate student education and intervention opportunities, and 3) community education. As a natural leader, she had vision for each area. She assumed a collaborative role with individuals and groups to bring her vision into fruition.  Ms. Schoffer Closson had a year of assistance from her colleague in the Rural Institute, Bethany Rigles, in developing the undergraduate offerings.  For graduate offerings, she began and continues to partner with Anisa Goforth, an assistant professor in the school psychology department, to offer collaborative intervention for school age children with autism.  For community education, Ms. Schoffer Closson reached out to the UM’s NSSLHA group called SCHWA (Students in Communication and Hearing Working in Action) to offer an annual autism spring conference.  Most recently, Ms. Schoffer Closson partnered with her colleague, Dana Fitz Gale, to offer summer autism courses, including a hands-on lab, for pre-service and in-service professionals.

Each piece of Ms. Schoffer Closson’s clinical achievement is worthy of description and merit. Ms. Schoffer Closson created a program called MOSSAIC (Mentoring, Organization, and Social Support for Autism Inclusion on Campus).   From there, Ms. Schoffer Closson met Dr. Goforth and they immediately saw the prospect to offer an interdisciplinary opportunity for CSD and School Psychology graduate students.  The YETI (Youth Engagement through Intervention) intensive social skills program was developed.  Ms.  Schoffer Closson also initiated the RiteCare/SCHWA Annual Spring Autism Conference during the 2012-2013 school year to fill a need on campus and in the community.  Each year, Ms. Schoffer Closson co-facilitates the conference with a SCHWA representative.  ASHA recognized that Ms. Schoffer Closson’s actions have advanced knowledge in the area of clinical practice in many ways. Ms. Schoffer Closson has provided high quality educational opportunities for graduate students, professionals, community, and family members.  She has educated at the pre-service level and she has presented on the topic of autism seventeen times in the state of Montana since the initiation of these programs. She offered two classes on autism last summer, with a hands-on labs.  She has had one national speaking engagement, one national poster, one state poster, supervised six student research posters related to autism, and currently has an article in press.  She is presently writing a manuscript with the anticipation of publishing on the YETI program. Ms. Schoffer Closson was featured for her work in the UM’s 2014 Vision Magazine.

Ms. Schoffer Closson is a very active, visible member in our state and her programs are recognized for their sound theoretical base and evidence based practice, as well as their model of implementation. She is seen as a resource in the state as someone who is an excellent clinician, teacher and researcher.  Ms. Schoffer Closson is the ‘go to’ person when a colleague wants to know the merit of a particular presentation or program. She is starting to become recognized outside Montana’s borders for her creativity in meeting clinical needs while providing high quality educational opportunities.   Montana is very fortunate to have Ms. Schoffer Closson and we hope you will recognize her for her outstanding contribution to clinical practice with this award.