Project team at The University of Iowa

J. Bruce Tomblin, PhD, OCHL Project Co-Director, leads the Child Language Research Center and is the DC Spriestersbach Distinguished Professor in Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Iowa. He also directs the Iowa Pediatric Cochlear Implant Laboratory in the Department of Otolaryngology. Dr. Tomblin's research and teaching have long been in developmental language disorders found in children with specific language impairment and hearing loss, and he has extensive experience in conducting large scale epidemiologic outcome studies involving longitudinal methods in order to evaluate the relationship of early language status and later academic and social outcomes. His research is internationally recognized and has been well supported by NIH grants and contracts. As Co-Directors of the OCHL project, Dr. Tomblin and Dr. Mary Pat Moeller from Boys Town National Research Hospital, assume shared responsibility for leadership, direction and oversight of all aspects of the project, as well as data analysis, interpretation and manuscript preparation.

Rick Arenas, PhD, is the programmer and data base manager for the OCHL study. He has advanced degrees in speech science and computer programming, and has extensive experience in data collection, data management, programming analysis and database design. He is responsible for oversight of the entry and storage of the research data, data centralization, data security and authorized access to these data. Furthermore, he is responsible for programming needs across all three sites of this project.

Ruth Bentler, PhD, is a professor and chair of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Iowa. Her teaching and research involves clinical topics and challenges in the area of hearing aids, due to significant technologic changes (in both software and hardware). She and her students have spent considerable time and effort evaluating “high” technologies, focusing on directional and multi-microphone design efficacy, digital noise reduction effectiveness, and frequency-lowering algorithms. As an OCHL research team member, her efforts focus on quantifying the audibility of speech and its impact on speech and language development. Another area of focus is establishing actual use time through parent-report and recent data logging capabilities of the hearing aids themselves.

Connie Ferguson, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and the lead examiner for data collection and reliability from the three OCHL sites. She is responsible for refining protocols, maintaining the integrity of the administration of the protocols, and training other field examiners. She has vast experience administering standardized and research protocols for longitudinal and epidemiological studies with children. At the Iowa site, she is one of two examiners responsible for administration of all speech, language, psychosocial and related family report measures.

Wendy Fick, BA, is a research assistant on the OCHL project and has extensive experience supporting lab operations in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Her duties include data entry and verification, data accuracy and security, subject payments, preparation of testing materials, tracking survey responses and receipt of medical records, supplies and equipment maintenance, and record keeping. Her main focus is the Iowa site, but she is involved with activities across the other two sites as well.

Lenore Holte, PhD, CCC-A, is a clinical professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Department of Pediatrics at the Center for Disabilities and Development.  In addition to her effort on the OCHL Study, she also provides audiological technical assistance to the Iowa Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) program. Her professional background is primarily in pediatric audiology, newborn hearing screening and hearing assessment of individuals with disabilities. Her role in the OCHL study includes recruitment of families through cooperation with the Iowa EHDI team and other state agencies, as well as development and conduct of audiology test protocols.

John Knutson, PhD, is professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of Iowa. He is a clinical psychologist who specializes in home and family rearing practices and their impacts on child welfare. He has considerable experience with children who are deaf and those who have received cochlear implants. He is responsible for the measures of parenting, home setting and psychosocial outcomes in the children in this study.He takes a primary role in data analysis, interpretation, and manuscript preparation in these areas.


Marlea O'Brien, BA, is the research support manager of the Child Language Research Center and is the key point of contact for the OCHL project. She has served in this role for more than 20 years and has extensive experience in supervision and management of multi-site longitudinal and epidemiological studies. She oversees operational and field research activities and staff, management of the financial and grants processes, internal and external reporting, quality assurance of consent/assent process, IRB requirements/standards and NIH progress reports and applications. She coordinates annual meetings and formal communications among sties, and, in addition, serves as liaison for families, project staff, school personnel, investigators and advisory board members. In short, she creates the best possible environment for OCHL members to keep moving forward and achieve their mission and goals.

Jake Oleson, PhD, is an associate professor in Biostatistics and a faculty member in the Center for Public Statistics for the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa.  He has served as the lead biostatistician on the UI Cochlear Implant project for the past six years and the Outcomes of Children with Hearing Loss project for the past four years.  In addition, he has served as a statistical consultant for the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.  He supports all aspects of data centralization and statistical analyses.  He works closely with all team members on study design, statistical methods, analysis, and reporting of results.  A few of his areas of expertise include spatial correlation, longitudinal data analysis, mixed models, multivariate techniques, and missing data analyses.

Julie Ostrem, MBA, is the webmaster and newsletter editor for the OCHL project. She works with a number of academic groups on the Iowa campus, weaving websites and managing other outreach activities and educational projects. To do these tasks, she draws on her bachelor's degree in journalism from Iowa State University and a master's degree in business administration from The University of Iowa. She never tires of the challenge of communicating knowledge from scientific research into useful forms to those who need it on a day-to-day basis.

Barb Peterson, MHD, is a research assistant for the OCHL project.  She works with families with hearing impaired children from all locations in this project as she conducts the annual family interviews by phone approximately six months after the research visit.   She and her husband Jeff have two deaf daughters, and she has a vast knowledge of raising and educating hearing impaired children, making her able to share a lot of her experiences with families and has been a valuable asset to our team by sharing a parent perspective.

Marcia St. Clair, BA, is a research examiner for the OCHL project and is responsible for administration of all speech, language, psychosocial and related family report measures to participants from the Iowa site. She also assists with subject consent, recruitment, scheduling, family contacts and selected family surveys or interviews. She has many years of experience as a teacher and research examiner, and is highly knowledgeable about the conduct of standardized assessment methods and research protocols for longitudinal and epidemiological studies with children.

Elizabeth Walker, PhD, CCC-SLP/A, is a research audiologist on the OCHL project, collecting audiological data on children at the Iowa site. She received her doctorate in speech and hearing science from the University of Iowa in 2010, and she is certified as both a speech-language pathologist and audiologist. She is actively involved in scheduling, data collection, and modification of testing protocols, as well as developing coding systems to measure narrative ability and parent-child interactions. Her research interests include identifying factors affecting provision of audiological services and semantic and pragmatic development in children with hearing loss. In addition to her duties on the OCHL project, she is also an investigator on a grant examining speech and language development in children with cochlear implants.