2024 Class of Honorees


Published in the February 2024 issue of the ISHA Voice.

By Tom Parton

Tom is the chair of the Honors Committee.

On Saturday, February 10th during the 2024 ISHA Convention at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, members of the association gathered to recognize the 2024 Class of Honorees. ISHA’s Honors Committee, composed of Tom Parton (chair), Jeanane Ferre, Danila McAsey, Denise Prohaska, Diane Davis-Williams, Sarah Moon, Kim Peppler, Candace Tablerion, and Carol Szymanski, reviewed the applications and recommended the honorees to the ISHA Executive Board for their approval.  Members of the association nominated their colleagues for this class of honorees. 

Jennifer Baron: ISHA Fellow

Jennifer Baron

Jennifer Baron’s nomination for ISHA Fellow was sponsored by Patricia Boyd and co-sponsored by Elise Drejas and Bridget Rohr. 

Jennifer joined ISHA in 1996.  She has served as the Representative Council (RC) Secretary since 2006.  In her role as Representative Council Secretary, Jennifer has been described as being exceptionally organized and an expert at record keeping and technology. RC is a very large group and when they transitioned to a paperless committee in 2015, Jennifer was instrumental in creating the Google Drive for RC.  This allowed communication to be streamlined and much more effective within the large group. During that time, Jennifer was able to field many questions from both members and RC Chairs.  She did this very proficiently. As secretary, Jennifer keeps very detailed notes and is able to distribute the meeting minutes to RC members within 24 hours. Jennifer has also provided much needed support for each new Chair who transitions to the role of RC.

Recently, Jennifer has accepted the role of ISELA Liaison (Illinois Special Education Coalition).  To prepare for this new role, Jennifer contacted several members of ISHA to ask questions and gain insight.  This shows her willingness to grow and learn in an effort to fulfill her position to the best of her abilities. It demonstrates her strong leadership skills as well.  In addition to this, Jennifer has shown her dedication to ISHA by being a member of the School Affairs Committee, participating in the ISHA Mentorship Program and is a current member of the Legislative Pairing Project. Jennifer also submitted an excellent article for the ISHA Voice entitled, Lessons Learned from Changing Populations.

In addition to all she does for ISHA, Jennifer has served as a school-based speech-language pathologist in Batavia.  After working for many years with the preschool population, Jennifer transitioned to working with high school students.  Being the dedicated SLP and life-long learner that she is, Jennifer pulled together a team of individuals that she could rely on and trust to get the support she needed.  Besides providing support for her, this group of individuals was also challenged to be their best in providing resources and guidance.  Jennifer is described as being resourceful and showing initiative, so that she could provide the best services to her new and very different population of students. She advocates for her students and their families.  Patricia Boyd said, “Jennifer pours everything into her work and is selfless when it comes to her students.”

Because of these outstanding achievements and service to the professions, ISHA is pleased to recognize Jennifer Baron as a Fellow of the Association.

Carrie Kerr: 2024 Illinois Clinical Achievement Award

Carrie Kerr

ISHA’s Illinois Clinical Achievement Award goes to Carrie Kerr. Carrie’s nomination was sponsored by Josh Bradshaw and supported by Dr. Matthew N. Jackson.

Carrie is a speech-language pathologist, presently the PRC-Saltillo Regional Manager for the northeast region of the U.S. She earned her Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from Illinois State University. She founded Child’s Nature Pediatric Therapy Services, a multi-disciplinary clinic, where she established and developed the only AAC evaluation clinic outside the Chicago and St. Louis areas and established the Neurodevelopmental Collaborative Clinic for Diagnostic services. Carrie earned a Certificate in Special Education Advocacy from William and Mary Law School in Virginia. Through her efforts, two separate nationwide insurance plan policies restricting patient access to speech-generating devices were successfully overturned. Carrie’s efforts have garnered her recognition including the Outstanding Professional Award from the Autism Society of America and the Peoria 25 Women in Leadership Award.

The leadership team of the Peoria Area Speech, Language, Hearing Association (PASHA) was inspired by an article that appeared in the ASHA Leader, describing the work of an SLP using communication displays with first responders.  PASHA made the decision to develop a simple technology tool to be used by EMTs with individuals with limited speaking ability or who were non-speaking or had complex communication needs. Carrie then took the initiative and was instrumental in bringing the project to fruition. She coordinated the development of a simple technology communication board with fellow colleagues, members of the community and emergency medical professionals.

Carrie developed a needs assessment with first responders to identify critical information needed on site to be obtained from patients quickly and effectively, thus reducing the risk of possible errors. It was clear there was an overwhelming need in the community for such a system. The local EMTs embraced the concept enthusiastically. Carrie then collaborated with local EMTs and the Peoria Emergency Medical Services to identify core vocabulary needed, which could be associated with easily identifiable icons. Using her expertise in AAC, Carrie developed a picture symbol communication board in a convenient, easy to use layout, that would help patients and first responders communicate more effectively.  

Carrie organized a group of volunteers to fabricate and laminate 200 emergency medical AAC boards, which were then distributed to area first responders. To assure the successful and effective use of these emergency medical AAC boards, Carrie collaborated with Advanced Medical Transport in the creation of a training video for EMTs. The project was then extended by providing Peoria Public School nurses with the communication boards, so that they could use them with their students with communication challenges.

Josh Bradshaw, Community Resource Manager of Advanced Medical Transport said: “By placing the communication boards on all of our ambulances, we are much better able to exchange information with our patients who are unable to speak due to a medical condition or trauma.”   Dr. Matthew N. Jackson, M.D. Medical Director for Pre-Hospital and EMS Services for OSF Healthcare Systems stated: “The communication boards have proven invaluable for patients with communication difficulties. Seldom in medicine or in EMS has a tool been developed that is both inexpensive and highly effective in achieving its goal. This communication tool encompasses both qualities.”

Following local media and social media coverage and the impact of the emergency medical communication boards, interest was sparked not only locally, but nationally from physicians, fire departments and other SLPs. In response to many requests, Carrie formatted the tool as a PDF document and made it available through the PASHA website without cost.

In Carrie’s own words: “My hope is this would provide first responders an opportunity to get quick information from their patients on site, to help respond to their needs more quickly and to reduce the errors that could happen by not having accurate information.”

Under Carrie’s leadership, the EMS community learned about individuals with communication challenges and were provided a practical tool to help them bridge the communication gap and thus improve quality of care. Carrie’s actions have made an impact in her local area and in communities across the country. Her efforts have inspired other speech-language pathologists to contribute to their communities with similar ideas.

In recognition of her significant accomplishments in the advancement of clinical service, ISHA is honored to present Carrie Kerr with the Illinois Clinical Achievement Award.

Dr. Leslie Guca: Exemplary Practice Award

Leslie Guca

ISHA’s Exemplary Practice Award went to Dr. Leslie Guca.  Leslie’s nomination was sponsored by Danielle Osmelak and co-sponsored by Angela Riccelli and Caren Schranz.

Dr. Guca obtained a Master’s degree in audiology from Northern Illinois University and a master’s degree in speech pathology from Governors State University. She obtained her doctoral degree at the University of Florida in 2017. Dr. Guca is a Senior University Lecturer within the Department of Communication Disorders at Governors State University (GSU) and is dually credentialed as both an AHSA certified Audiologist (AuD-CCC) and Speech Language Pathologist (MHS-CCC-SLP).  She continues to maintain a small caseload which she states provides her the ability to continually assess and improve her clinical skills while keeping apprised of new technology. It also provides her clinically relevant experiences that she can infuse into the courses she teaches.

Leslie is a member of ASHA and the Illinois Academy of Audiology.  She has served ISHA as the current Convention Track Chair in audiology/aural rehabilitation and served as track chair for child language & phonology in 2013.

Dr. Guca’s nominators note her exemplary teaching skills and passion to promote student learning.  She demonstrates a high level of academic professionalism while working extremely hard to make sure the content she is presenting is current, evidence-based, and thorough. Dr. Guca will find various modes of instruction to reach all students and is terrific at adjusting her approach for the given moment to make sure every student understands the content.

Dr. Guca is the epitome of an exemplary practice clinician in that she is an outstanding interprofessional early intervention clinician, prevention and screening advocate, higher education leader and role model as both an audiologist and speech-language pathologist.  Dr. Guca’s passion for prevention and supporting early identification and quick referral for services has resulted in dozens of events around the state.  Her service impacts nearly one thousand children for critical speech, language and hearing screenings, primarily in areas of the state where access to screening/services is a barrier. 

Dr. Guca’s colleagues report that one of her largest contributions is the relationships she forges with community partners. These relationships allow graduate students the opportunity to provide speech, language and hearing assessments for pediatric and adult populations, who would not otherwise have access. It is her mission to educate future Audiologists and SLPs in serving the community through prevention activities and to identify as many potential speech-language and hearing disorders as early as possible.  Dr. Guca’s ability to wear both her SLP and AuD hats help support a broader and more holistic lens toward prevention, collaboration, and interprofessional care.  Dr. Guca’s professional work inspires and encourages future professionals and leaders.  

Dr. Guca demonstrates a caring and empathetic demeanor to the children and families she serves. She moves mountains to make sure children receive the best service and seeks out other disciplines who might also support the family. As part of an interdisciplinary team Dr. Guca's level of communication and problem-solving skills stand out. She seeks input from others, co-treats when warranted, develops home programs with others and finds community resources, all for the best interest of the child and family. Dr. Guca builds relationships with all families and continues to support them even after they have left the early intervention system.

In recognition of her exceptional clinical-based, school-based, academic, research, and leadership practices, ISHA is honored to present Dr. Leslie Guca with the Exemplary Practice Award.

Dr. Diane German: ISHA Award for Distinguished Contributions

Diane German

The ISHA Award for Distinguished Contributions goes to Dr. Diane German.

Dr. German is a professor emerita at National Louis University, Chicago, Illinois and holder of the Ryan Endowed Chair in Special Education. She is a Fellow in the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities. She has authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, newsletter articles, technical reports, conference papers, research posters and presentations focused on her work in child word finding. As one of the world’s leading scholars in the study of Child Word Finding, she is frequently asked to conduct seminars in Child Word Finding at state, regional, national, and international conferences. Dr. German’s influence has extended beyond the profession.

Dr. German’s exceptional work in the field of word finding is unique. Dr. German’s name is widely known as the expert in the field of word finding difficulties.  Not only has she taught decades of speech-language pathologists and published countless peer-reviewed journal articles, but she has enlightened classroom teachers and individuals about the impact word finding difficulties have on reading and writing. Dr. German has presented her research to professional organizations around the world.  

Dr. German has developed assessments and treatment protocols for individuals experiencing word finding difficulties.  She developed the Test of Word Finding and the Test of Adolescent/Adult Word Finding and their updated versions.  Her Word Finding Intervention Program is a standard treatment program widely used by professionals. 

She was a pioneer in teaching her course on Word Finding online years before COVID made the practice commonplace.  Dr. German brought word finding difficulties to the general public by publishing, It’s on the Tip of My Tongue, Word-Finding Strategies to Remember Names and Words You Often Forget. This book is a vital resource for many individuals and professionals.  

Perhaps the most important characteristic of Dr. German’s professional life is her passion for her work.  She has made herself available to consult with a new generation of SLPs and teachers. She has mentored others to carry on her work.  She is generous with her time and expertise, consulting with those both inside and outside the world of special education.  

ASHA’s Honors of the Association recognizes ASHA members for their distinguished contributions to the discipline of communication sciences and disorders and is the highest honor the Association bestows. Dr. German received this high honor from ASHA in 2019.

It is clear that Dr. German has made a significant impact on the lives of many professionals and individuals. She is renowned for her work in research, evaluation and treatment development for individuals with word finding difficulties.

In recognition of her life’s work, to recognize her contribution to professionals in the assessment and treatment of word finding issues, and to individuals with word finding difficulties throughout the world ISHA is honored to present Dr. Diane German with the Award for Distinguished Contributions.

Mary Kirwan-Johnson: ISHA Honors of the Association

Mary Kirwan-Johnson

ISHA’s Honors of the Association goes to Mary E Kirwan-Johnson. Mary’s nomination was sponsored by Melanie Frazek. Her nomination was co-sponsored by Liz Lang, Kim Hoffer, and Julie Hamilton.

Mary earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences from Northern Illinois University and two Master of Science degrees from Eastern Illinois University, one in Communication Sciences and Disorders and the other in Educational Administration with a concentration in Educational Leadership.  Mary retired from Champaign Unit 4 Schools as Special Education Coordinator.  Mary facilitated Assistive Technology, Speech/Language Pathologists, the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Program, Visually Impaired Program, and as Local Education Administrator for Private/Parochial/Homeschool students for the district.  Mary continues her work as a consultant with Infinitec.  Mary is still known as her district’s "guru" for assistive technology. 

Mary joined ISHA after graduation and volunteered shortly thereafter, first as a committee member and then as a leader in a variety of roles. Within the Division of Educational Development she chaired both Convention Exhibits (1994-1997) and Registration (2000-2006). Within the Division for Professional Services, Mary served as co-chair of the School Affairs Committee (1993-1994). Mary served as the Vice-President of Professional Affairs (1997-2000). Mary served as ISHA President in 2007.  Mary served on and as chair of ISHA’s Honors Committee for eight years. 

Mary is creative and considers the many needs and cultural profiles of her students.  Mary worked with a non-verbal student providing guidance and use with an Augmentative/Augmentative Communication device for communication use at school.  Before the student left school for the day, the device was switched to his Spanish profile to be used at home. The words/icons remained in the same place but with a different voice and the words were printed in Spanish. The engagement from the caregivers and family increased. 

Mary’s district has 26 different languages spoken in the schools. Mary worked closely with the Multi-Language Learner Department.  Mary also utilized resources from the nearby University of Illinois to support multilingual families. She has also used a refugee center to help with interpreting when needed. Mary’s work has provided a means for special education needs to branch out into the larger community, including utilizing community-based supports for her district’s students.

Liz Lang, assistant director of special education for Champaign Unit District 4, wrote in her letter of support “Mary is always willing to put her own needs on hold to help others without making anyone feel like they've 'put you out'. She shares her tips and knowledge with everyone. Mary seems to be able to be in all 18 buildings to support staff and students and still have a smile on her face each time she sees you.”  

Kim Hoffer wrote that “Mary Kirwan-Johnson is a stellar example of what it means to be a speech-language-pathologist, a compassionate colleague, and a professional leader. Her example is one to be emulated.”  Melanie Frazek shared that “Mary is one fine, very fun person, and yes, she is my friend.”

In recognition of her contributions to our profession and those she served, ISHA is proud to present Mary Kirwan-Johnson with Honors of the Association.

ISHA is proud to recognize the achievements of the Class of 2024 Honorees for their contributions to the professions and the association.  ISHA’s Honors Committee encourages all members to consider nominating a colleague for one of ISHA’s award.  The forms and details for nomination packets are at https://www.ishail.org/nominate-a-peer-for-isha-honors.  The 2025 Class of ISHA Honorees nomination packets are due to the ISHA office by May 15, 2024.