Emily McHugh, a senior in the bachelor’s program in communication sciences and disorders, is the winner of UF’s Best Paper Award for 2020. McHugh is one of only three students to receive the award among more than 350 students who presented research at last week’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, presented by UF’s Center for Undergraduate Research. She took top honors in the Social, Behavioral & Education Sciences category.
McHugh’s experience as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the course American Sign Language and Deaf Culture sparked her current research interests, which include how people learn words both aurally and visually, through signing.
Under the mentorship of Lori Altmann, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of speech, language, and hearing sciences, McHugh conducted an honor’s thesis research project on whether learning a word aurally or through sign language affects a person’s understanding of that word’s meaning.
Among her findings: there was no main effect of presenting the words as an auditory word or a visual sign.
“Thus, there are no negative effects of teaching words through the modality of sign, which is good news for parents of children who are deaf,” McHugh said. “Also, this is good news for adults because, even though they are far past the critical period for learning language, these adults showed robust word learning.”
McHugh will enter a graduate program in speech-language pathology this fall. After completing her master’s degree and ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. with a specialization in developmental delays and disabilities.