Hearing the Echoes of Excellence: 25 Years of Osborne Audiology
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Hearing the Echoes of Excellence: 25 Years of Osborne Audiology

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Salus University’s current Osborne College of Audiology (OCA) was originally established with a mission to elevate global standards in audiology, a commitment it has steadfastly upheld, solidifying its position as one of the nation's premier audiology programs.

Although the name has changed since its inception, that’s exactly what it has done since launching the Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree in 2000 making it one of the leading audiology programs in the country.

At this week’s annual American Academy of Audiology (AAA) conference in Atlanta, the University announced the Alumni Association’s 2024 Audiology Alumnus of the Year as Brian Urban, AuD ‘06. This award is presented to an alumnus who has distinguished himself/herself through extraordinary service and contributions to the profession of audiology, bringing honor and prestige to Salus University and OCA.

In addition, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, Gerry O’Sullivan, PhD, officially announced the 2024 Presidential Medal honorees as Rita Chaiken, MS, AuD ‘03, and Stephanie Czuhajewski, MPH, CAE, executive director of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. 

The University hosted an Alumni and Friends reception at AAA where more than 60 were in attendance. Drs. O’Sullivan and Aravamudhan provided updates on the Drexel and Salus intended merger, pending approval by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, specialized accreditors and additional third parties, while attendees enjoyed food and drinks and reminisced with each other. 

It was during this presentation that Jacqueline Patterson, MPA, CFRE, the University’s vice president of Institutional Advancement, announced the 25th anniversary campaign for Osborne Audiology to a rousing applause. As the largest Doctor of Audiology program in the United States, Salus is committed to supporting its students as they pursue careers in one of the fastest-growing professions, with hearing and balance disorders increasing as the population ages. The campaign’s primary focus is to increase funding for scholarships and awards and help alleviate the financial burden students face.

What sets OCA apart from its peers? 

According to Radhika Aravamudhan, PhD, EdD, who became interim dean in 2016, dean in 2019, and continues to serve in that capacity today, a distinguishing factor is that the department caters to both working professionals and entry-level students looking to earn an AuD degree.  

Rad and Jonette at AAA picUniversity administration understands that not everyone can drop everything to pursue a degree, which is why the Audiology department offers options for practicing professionals to earn their AuD without having to quit their job. At the same time, the department also provides opportunities for those who are just starting their academic journey.  

One of the key highlights of the department is the biomed component, which sets the program apart from other programs. Osborne Audiology remains committed to providing early exposure to clinics and hands-on experience, ensuring that its students are well-equipped to enter the workforce as career-ready professionals.

“The core of our curriculum design is the belief that we must meet our students where they are and guide them to where they need to be. Our goal is to train students to view the patient as a whole, not just focusing on the ears,” said Dr. Aravamudhan. “This approach helps create well-rounded professionals who are ready to pursue their own path and make a difference in the field of audiology. Thanks to our dedicated faculty for providing a supportive and nurturing environment, where every student can thrive and reach their full potential.”

How it All Began

Back in the 1980s, the AAA wanted to move audiology as a profession in the direction of offering a doctorate-level program. That thought process continued to percolate until the late 1990s. The movement had a vocal and enthusiastic supporter in Dr. George S. Osborne.

Dr. Lewis and Dr. Osborne on campusHis ultimate goal was to establish a professional school degree program and optometry — specifically the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) — was an ideal model on which to build. After much discussion, PCO realized adding an audiology doctorate program was a unique opportunity for program expansion in addition to impact. 

After going through a rigorous process and finally receiving approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, PCO established the School of Audiology in 2000, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary from now through 2025.

PCO would offer two AuD programs: first, a distance education program designed to provide qualified licensed experienced practitioners non-residential access to upskill to the AuD degree, which began in 2000; and second, a four-year residential entry-level AuD degree program that began in 2003.

Untimely Challenges

Early in its development, the program was dealt a huge blow: the unexpected death of Dr. Osborne in 2007. When PCO established Salus University in 2008, the George S. Osborne College of Audiology was named in honor of its founder. 

After almost two years of making it work without Dr. Osborne, the College hired its next dean: Victor Bray, MSC, PhD, FNAP, who had previously been the vice president and chief audiology officer of a hearing aid company.

Dr. Bray receiving awardDr. Bray was told by the PCO/Salus administration that the objective of the audiology program was not to be like anyone else but to implement a new educational model as Dr. Osborne envisioned. And, Dr. Bray set out to accomplish just that. At the time, there were two parts - one of which was phasing down and one was ramping up. The audiology profession had already decided to transition from master’s to doctoral level. 

And, PCO was one of the few programs in the country providing an online opportunity for that “bridge” so individuals could upgrade both their academic and clinical skills. 

“The intent of the bridge program, as Dr. Osborne saw it, was that it would open, it would run, and it would close when the need had been met. So, the program was open for roughly a decade,” said Dr. Bray. “When I came here in 2009, the program was scheduled to close in 2010. And, I did close it. That was Dr. Osborne’s intent.”

The International Audiologist

In 2010, Girija Sundar, PhD, was hired as the director of the Distance Education program to re-activate the AuD degree bridge program, which had closed in 2009 with the initiation of the residential AuD program. This second-generation AuD Bridge program that opened in 2011, (AuD 2.0), has continued to give the OCA a global footprint.

Practicing clinicians have little time to continuously enhance their skills and knowledge, yet they must do so to keep up with advances in the profession. OCA’s educational programs help address this need. Dr. Sundar emphasized how the bridge program provides a niche educational opportunity. While making sure to fulfill the requirements of any AuD program, she recognizes the importance of filling that particular gap for audiologists practicing across the globe.

What the bridge program does is “constantly be at the cutting edge of science,” according to Dr. Sundar. That, in turn, has helped it consistently grow. Starting with 12 to 14 students, the program has grown to a high of 37 students in 2020. This year’s cohort has 34 students. The bridge program lasts for two years, and during that time students are only on campus for one eight-day-long workshop.

 “The steady increase in enrollment is a testament to the quality of our programs,”  said Dr. Sundar.

She also attributes the success of the online bridge program largely in part to both Drs. Bray and Aravamudhan, who gave her the latitude for program development.

Hear From the Students

To get a better idea of the lasting legacy Osborne Audiology has created, all one has to do is listen to the students and now alumni.

Alfred Mwamba headshot1When Alfred Mwamba, AuD ‘14, who was in attendance during the Alumni and Friends reception at the AAA, graduated, he became the first and only audiologist in his home country of Zambia, southern Africa.

And, although the sad reality is that Dr. Mwamba is still the only audiologist in Zambia a decade later, he is working hard to change that. Through his efforts as chief of the Starkey Hearing Institute in Lusaka, Zambia, which is part of the Starkey Hearing Foundation based in Minnesota, Dr. Mwamba has trained more than 100 hearing healthcare-trained individuals.

In 2012, when he entered the OCA AuD bridge program, Dr. Mwamba was searching for a distance education program that also accepted international students. He found Salus had re-activated the AuD Degree bridge program and he joined the first cohort.

“What’s unique about the program is the practical aspect of it. Even a practicing professional can get great benefits from doing a program with Salus,” said Dr. Mwamba. “The University is at the front edge of ensuring that whatever is new in the industry, they’re always researching and providing that practical experience on how you can make that applicable in your everyday practice.”

According to Dr. Mwamba, the University’s forward thinking and global perspective have both been tremendous assets for him as he moves forward with his training goals.

“That’s unique with this program because many institutions are so focused within themselves. Salus has that kind of leadership that looks at the world as one,” he said. “Every human being on the planet needing access to hearing healthcare education can do it at an institution of the highest quality possible. Salus stands out from any other institution in that aspect.”

With your generosity, we can provide more scholarships and awards to help alleviate the financial burden students face. Join us in honoring the legacy of Dr. Osborne, and help us continue to graduate competent and caring audiologists. To learn more, please contact Jacquie Patterson, vice president of Institutional Advancement, at 215-780-1397 or jpatterson@salus.edu or visit salus.edu/AUD25.

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