- Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
With 27 plus years of service to higher education, as both a speech language pathologist and respected leader within the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences, Dr. Sharon Stewart has made a lasting mark. On March 23, colleagues, family, and friends came together to celebrate Dr. Stewart’s upcoming retirement and reflect upon the significant contributions she has made to the College, the state of Kentucky, and beyond.
Stewart’s path to speech language pathology and higher education may not have been a traditional one, but it was certainly the right choice. After growing up in the shadow of Purdue University, she naturally chose to pursue her undergraduate and graduate education as a proud Boilermaker—receiving her bachelor’s degree in American history and master’s degree in audiology and speech sciences.
“After studying American history, I realized the job prospects were few unless you wanted to teach it,” Stewart said. “I had so many friends and people in my life who raved about speech language pathology, and how wonderful of a profession it was. I looked into it and was soon admitted to the audiology and speech language pathology program. Later I learned it was one of the top programs in the county.”
Stewart has always desired to contribute to the well-being of others, and speech language pathology allowed her to pursue this calling. “It’s a helping profession. You interact with people daily and can see how you are making a difference in the life of a person or family,” she said. “Additionally, there is so much new research and innovations within this field. You can’t stand still and stay effective. I love the people who chose speech language pathology because they keep moving forward.”
Upon graduation from Purdue, Stewart moved to Kentucky and practiced as a clinician for more than ten years. In 1986, she received her Doctor of Education from the University of Kentucky with a focus on special education personnel preparation and learning and behavior disorders. She spent time teaching at Morehead State University before joining the College of Health Sciences communications sciences and disorders (CSD) faculty in 1991, where’s she’s been ever since.
“I wanted to know what kind of environment I liked best,” she said. "I opened my own practice, and have worked in schools and hospitals, outpatient clinics, and more. I ultimately kept wanting to return to higher education.”
“After coming back to UK, I knew higher education was where I belonged,” Stewart continued. “I don’t know of many jobs where you can make it your own. In this field, you get to decide what your trajectory will be. It’s been such an amazing ride because there are always steep learning curves that mold you into a better version of yourself.”
As a faculty member, Stewart has mentored countless other faculty, staff and students. “What I love most about this job was the chance to be an instructor not just to college students, but to other professionals in the discipline,” she said. “I’ve taught many workshops and done multiple regional and national presentations. This was so rewarding. I love being a teacher, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
This natural leadership ability began to transcend the classroom. Soon, Stewart began to rise within the ranks of administration within the College, taking on more responsibility as the division director of the communications sciences and disorders program, then moving to associate dean of the College, and eventually shepherding CHS through a transitional time as interim dean.
“As interim dean, I had an opportunity to lead an effort instead of staying behind the scenes,” she said. “This chance to lead was a true highlight of my career. It brought out skills I didn’t even know I had. Part of this journey was learning more about myself and what I was capable of. I love this college. Being able to make a difference, help keep CHS united during a really critical time, and seeing us come out on the other side with the fantastic hire of Dr. Scott Lephart, was truly rewarding.”
Anne Olson, the current division director for CSD, praised Stewart’s exceptional leadership and selfless service. “I respect her ability to imagine possibilities, whether these possibilities related to new program or course developments, innovative pedagogy approaches, unique certificate options, new grant prospects or additional opportunities for our students to travel abroad,” Olson said. “Dr. Stewart has embraced this way of thinking which challenged us all to contemplate novel ways to enrich the lives of students in our programs.”
According to Stewart, her favorite memories at the College of Health Sciences are due to the people she’s worked with, and the excellence of the college. “This college is growing rapidly,” she said. Several of our academic programs are nationally recognized and ranked. The enhancements we’ve made in the area of research are incredible. I know the people in the College of Health Sciences will continue to provide and contribute to this body of knowledge that improves what we all do.”
When asked what she will miss most after retiring, Stewart had this to say: “I’ll miss being in on the day-to-day action as an administrator, seeing my friends and colleagues, and participating in major decisions. But, as much as I love this job, I am ready to spend more time with friends and family, and to have the flexibility and freedom to purse travel and hobbies. It’s an exciting new season that I can’t wait to step into.”
Dr. Stewart’s national professional honors are as follows:
Darrel C. Mase Presidential Citation, Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions
The ASAHP President selects the awardee annually who has dedicated herself/himself to helping maintain the qualities of excellence that characterize a professional Association.
Fellow, Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions (ASAHP)
ASAHP is a national professional organization for administrators, educators, and others who are concerned with critical issues affecting allied health education.
Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
ASHA, an organization of 130,000 speech-language pathologists and audiologists, elected 19 Fellows based on ‘outstanding contributions to communication sciences and disorders.’
Outstanding Member Award, Board of Directors, Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions
The ASAHP Board of Directors gives this award annually to a member who has made ‘outstanding contributions to the Association’ over the years.’
Leadership in higher education
Chair, Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions Leadership Development Program
Dr. Stewart served as Chair of the Program in 2016 and as a member of the Leadership Development Team since 2011