Acoustical Society of America
Gold Medal Award - 2007

Katherine S. Harris

Katherine Harris is a New England native who still owns a home in Massachusetts. She lived in other places in her youth, including Greenwood, Mississippi, where one of her high school classmates was James Flanagan. Kathy currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she and her husband George have resided for more than 50 years. She received a B.A. in Psychology from Radcliffe College in 1943 and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard University in 1954, the year in which she joined the Acoustical Society of America.

Kathy has been recognized as an outstanding scientist in speech communication research since the beginning of her career. Specifically, Kathy's leadership in the area of speech production has been acknowledged from the beginning of her career. At the National Institutes of Health (NIH) she has participated on grant review panels, as well as serving as a consultant on task forces and advisory committees for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. For 20 years she was the principal investigator on an NIH Clinical Research Center Grant, directing a large number of investigators and diverse research projects. Notably, Kathy has been named a Fellow by four distinguished societies, the Acoustical Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Given this outstanding research career, Kathy has frequently been invited to present her research and reviews of the spectrum of speech production research at major national and international meetings.

The word “pioneer” aptly characterizes Kathy's career. Kathy was a pioneer in the use of electromyography (EMG) to study the dynamics of motor control, specifically with regard to the muscles used in speech production. The fact that no procedures existed to process and reduce the data for interpretation at a time when computers were just being introduced in speech research did not intimidate her. She cheerfully lead a team of engineers, programmers, technicians, ENT physicians, fellow scientists and students to find ways to solve the technical problems and obtain useful data. In spite of recalcitrant electrode placements, disk crashes and working late-late nights, Kathy was always there with a cheery smile and a lilting “hello” to keep everyone going. The significant role she has played in this speech production research was acknowledged by her selection to lead the history lectures in Speech Communication in preparation for celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) in 2004 (Harris, Ladefoged and Stevens, 2000).

Kathy was also a pioneer role model for women scientists, particularly in ASA. In the 1950s few women were active members in ASA or indeed visible in many of the hard sciences. Kathy, however, made major scientific contributions through her research at Haskins Laboratories. When she moved into her academic role as a professor in the mid-1960s, she brought her enthusiasm and dedication to science with her. This attracted a host of students, both female and male, to her and to her research. The women, however, especially benefited from Kathy's mentorship. Because she is a woman who is also a wife and mother, women students could see that practicing exemplary science and being female were not mutually exclusive.

Through Kathy's mentorship many of the field's most productive men and women have forged their own excellent careers in speech science. Both nationally and internationally, at universities and in laboratories, Kathy's students and research associates can be found among the leading figures in speech research. It is fair to say that there is no such thing as an “ex-student” of Kathy Harris. Indeed, her influence extends, through her students, to today's younger generation of speech scientists. This is in part due to the textbook Kathy has written with her former doctoral students Gloria Borden (Professor, Temple University) and Lawrence Raphael (Professor, Adelphi University), one of the most widely used textbooks in speech science for 20 years, the Speech Science Primer.

Kathy has had a life-long commitment of service to the Acoustical Society. She served as Chair of the Speech Communication Technical Committee from 1963-1965, and has served on the Committee on Medals and Awards, and the Committee on Special Fellowships. Kathy was a member of the Executive Council (1980-1983) and Vice President (1990-1991). Kathy's contributions to Speech Communication have been recognized by the Society in her election to Fellowship in the ASA (in 1967) and her receipt of the Silver Medal in Speech Communication (in 2005).

Kathy's most recent service to the Society was as President (2000-2001). Beginning in her year as President-Elect (1999-2000) and continuing into her year as President, the Society's Standards activities faced substantial challenges, including international concerns that the Society was no longer committed to standards work. These concerns had to be addressed as the Spring 2001 meeting in Vienna of the International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee 108 approached. Although somewhat tangential to her own technical area, Kathy understood that as president she had to reinforce the Society's commitment to standards work. Thus, Kathy attended the meeting as part of the US delegation. Kathy's attention to the Standards program illustrates her commitment to the Society: whatever the issue, she approaches it enthusiastically, learns everything she can, pays attention to the details, and works toward a solution.

The award of the Gold Medal is given in recognition of her life-long devotion to science and to the Society. She has earned an international reputation as a leader in speech science by contributing her insights to a variety of topics in basic and applied speech communication. Moreover, her bright disposition and inquiring mind has inspired many of the best speech scientists today to follow her example.