Stephanie Argyros

Stephanie Argyros

Head of the CLAS

Her desire to help make a difference in others’ lives, mixed with her fascination of the human mind, brought Stephanie Argyros into the world of speech-language pathology.

The 22-year-old graduate student at the University of Florida was attracted to the field for many reasons.

"Speech-language pathology is a helping and rewarding profession, where I am given the incredible ability to make a change in someone's life, no matter how small or profound,” she said. “The field is dynamic, challenging, and the variability of settings you are able to work in is very appealing.”

Argyros was drawn to the research of Dr. Lori Altmann, one of her undergraduate professors at UF, through her interest in adult language and neurogenic disorders. After taking a phonetics class with Dr. Altmann, the professor asked Argyros to be a research assistant in her Language Over the Lifespan Lab and later became Argyros’ mentor for a scientific study she conducted for the University Scholars Program.

During her junior year, Argyros began her investigation into the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on memory. Her study included a group of 30 young adults, four healthy older adults, and two individuals affected with Alzheimer’s.

Argyros explored whether the use and recollection of specific words put more strain on memory than general words in spontaneous speech, as well as the comparison between how well individuals with healthy minds could recall and manipulate information compared to individuals with Alzheimer’s.

“Research has shown that individuals with Alzheimer’s use many general words in spontaneous speech and have serious difficulties with sentence production when they must include specific words in their sentences,” she said. “We predicted that words with richer semantic representations would be more difficult to recall. Our second prediction was the effect would be exaggerated if the individual had to recall and manipulate words.”

The general word “fruit” puts less of a burden on memory, than for instance, the specific word “apple.”

To record this idea scientifically, Argyros set up a series of tests to assess memory and the semantic system. In a recall test, she asked the participants to repeat an increasingly longer list of general words, such as “weapon” and “sport” as they could remember. She then repeated the experiment using specific words like “sword” and “golf.”

Her results add to our knowledge about the relationship between memory and the semantic system. The verbal working memory tasks proved useful in suggesting that individuals ultimately find it easier to remember items that hold a sparser semantic representation (digits and general words) than retrieval of specific words (more taxing due to their many semantic features).

Argyros felt a strong connection with her mentor, Dr. Altmann.

“She not only taught me a great deal about Alzheimer’s disease and the research field, she made me realize my full potential as a clinician and a researcher,” she said. “Dr. Altmann was truly a contributor to my undergraduate success.”

This study on memory for general and specific words relating to Alzheimer’s disease was only the beginning for Argyros.

“I ultimately want to work in a medical setting with individuals who have acquired neurological disorders,” Argyros said. “Specifically, I want to work with people who’ve suffered stroke or traumatic brain injury, and who have neurodegenerative disease.”
Argyros also said she is interested in other aspects of the field such as working with children with Down syndrome and the deaf population.

“The brain intrigues me,” she said. “Our job as speech-language pathologists is to ultimately help people communicate again. In order for us to determine what therapy or treatment is needed for a certain disorder or deficit, we must know what is happening in the brain and where. It is like putting a puzzle together.”

Argyros graduated from UF with highest honors in May 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and a minor in gerontology. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in UF’s Speech-Language Pathology program. She received a graduate teaching assistantship to serve as the graduate assistant in Dr. Michael Tuccelli’s American Sign Language classes, having learned ASL by taking all three of Tuccelli’s sign language courses while an undergraduate.

“We sometimes take our ability to speak and communicate our feelings every day for granted, and for those who lose this, I ultimately hope to fill the void,” Argyros said.

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