Student Spotlight: Jennie Zoski

When she’s not running half-marathons in Alaska or playing with her Black Lab mix, Speech and Hearing Sciences doctoral candidate Jennie Zoski is working to combine her passions for literacy and language with her love of children.

Student Spotlight: Jennie Zoski click to enlarge Jennie Zoski with a few of her favorite children’s books.

Zoski’s focus on literacy and language began early in her career. After completing her undergraduate degree at Stony Brook University in New York, she became a high school English teacher. However, teaching didn’t feel like a good fit, so she applied to master’s programs in speech-language pathology, this time choosing to attend UNC.

After receiving her degree, she moved to the Boston area, where she worked as a speech pathologist, visiting the homes of infants and young children who were at risk for language and learning difficulties.  Later, she transitioned to working at an elementary school and developed an interest in language and literacy connections that eventually prompted her to pursue a PhD.

Zoski had noticed that speech pathologists tend to focus on oral language, but there are numerous overlaps between oral and written language.  “I want to expand the role of the speech pathologist in the school system to work on both oral and written language disorders,” she said.

One of the primary reasons Zoski chose to attend UNC for her PhD was to work with her mentor, Dr. Karen Erickson, Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies (CLDS).  Through the CLDS, Zoski is involved in several projects, most notably Big Words II, a computer-based intervention that seeks to help struggling readers decode challenging science words.   Zoski, now in the third-year of her PhD program, said she enjoys bouncing back and forth between these projects and her own research.  “It’s fun and it keeps things interesting,” she said.

This spring Zoski will begin working on her dissertation research, which will take place in a local school district.  Her study will involve administering three different types of interventions to three groups of kindergarten students and seeks to determine which is the most beneficial.   In terms of elementary school kids, Zoski says that kindergartners are her favorite to work with because “they have fun just playing and you can get them engaged really easily.”

After graduating, she hopes to continue her research and become an assistant professor.  “I’d like to work as an academic, but also have a strong connection to local school systems, working with teachers, speech pathologists, and students,” she said.

Last year Zoski crossed running a half-marathon in Alaska off of her bucket list.  She says that running is great stress reliever.  “It’s a struggle, in a doctoral program, to make time for it, but I really try to because I know it’s not just for physical health, but it’s for mental health too.”

Student, researcher, teacher, runner, dog-lover, and soon Zoski will be adding a new title to her repertoire: mother.  She and her husband are expecting a baby boy in June.

-Story by Meredith S. Bennett

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