David A. Shapiro, the Robert Lee Madison Distinguished Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Western Carolina University, was honored Friday, May 27, by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors with the 2016 Oliver Max Gardner Award, the highest honor the board presents to faculty of the 17-campus system.
The award, established through the will of North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner and presented since 1949, recognizes faculty who have “made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race.” It is the only award for which all faculty members across the 17 campuses are eligible. The honor, which carries a $20,000 cash prize, was presented to Shapiro by UNC President Margaret Spellings and Board of Governors Chairman Lou Bissette.
As a speech-language pathologist and board-certified specialist in fluency and fluency disorders, Shapiro has given the gift of unimpeded communication to thousands of people who stutter by helping them achieve fluency of speech. His work has taken him to six continents for both research and service delivery, and he has been honored for his efforts by state, national and international associations. As president of the International Fluency Association, he expanded the organization’s membership from just the United States and United Kingdom to countries around the globe.
He launched international advocacy efforts similar to Doctors Without Borders to assist people with fluency disorders in developed and developing nations, including countries where reaction to stuttering may lead to discrimination, injury – even death. Through his international outreach, Shapiro has positively affected the lives of people who stutter in more than 30 countries on six continents, ranging from the Czech Republic to several African nations, and from Japan to Norway.
“Over these years, I have worked with many people,” Shapiro said in accepting the award. “A man who never ordered a meal at a restaurant for his wife in their 40-year marriage now does so and communicates independently. A young woman who looked away and spoke little so that her boyfriend would not see her stutter now looks him in the eye and says, ‘He’s going to hear what I have to say whether he wants to or not.’ A child who stuttered severely and was bullied now speaks without hesitation and is an advocate for others.
“I have traveled to interesting places. With a colleague from France, I worked with people who stutter from 20 different African nations. I have met indigenous healers in huts with smoke and herbs and bones, and learned about diviners and herbalists. Most importantly, I learned that our own view of the world is not necessarily shared; it represents a view, not the view,” he said.
As an educator in Western Carolina’s Department of Communication Science and Disorders, Shapiro also has taught and mentored hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom have gone on to successful careers as clinicians and scholars using Shapiro’s techniques.
“It is difficult to capture nearly four decades of excitement into a few minutes. Indeed, I have had guiding lights. One such light is WCU. WCU is where dreams are visualized and realized. The students – the best and the brightest, some of whom may not have competitive dossiers, some of whom represent the first in their family to go to college – come to a place that is inspired. With the able support of faculty, staff and special services, they leave campus among the world’s best leaders,” Shapiro said.
“Faculty have similar advantages. At WCU, there is a degree of freedom to thrive and to become,” he said. “For me, WCU represents the American dream: You come as raw material, you work hard, you serve your community, you commit to learning and growing, and you prosper.”
Shapiro joined the WCU faculty in 1984 and was appointed the Robert Lee Madison Distinguished Professor in 2008. He began his professional career in 1977 as a clinician in the Department of Communication Disorders in the Bristol, Connecticut, public school system. He then worked briefly with the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor before becoming a clinical supervisor and lecturer at the University of Connecticut-Storrs. Shapiro later served as an instructor, researcher and supervisor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Indiana University-Bloomington before coming to WCU.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology, speech-language pathology and audiology from the State University of New York at Albany, followed by a master’s degree in communication disorders from the University of Vermont-Burlington. He completed his doctorate in speech-language pathology from Indiana University-Bloomington.
Shapiro is the author of “Stuttering Intervention: A Collaborative Journey to Fluency Freedom” and has written or co-authored more than 85 academic papers and articles in seven languages. He has been awarded approximately $1 million in grant funding over his career and has given numerous lectures and presentations across the globe.
Shapiro served as president of the International Fluency Association from 2012 to 2015. He has received many recognitions and awards for his teaching and service, including WCU’s University Scholar Award. Within North Carolina, Shapiro has been recipient of the UNC Board of Governors’ Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Clinical Achievement Award from the North Carolina Speech, Hearing and Language Association.
Nationally, he was elected Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and served as president of the Council of Supervisors in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. He received a research fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and was honored with the Award of Distinction for Outstanding Clinician from the International Fluency Association.
Shapiro is the second WCU faculty member selected for the O. Max Gardner Award since its inception. The first was Frederick Harrison, retired professor of biology, who received the award in 1991 in recognition of his work as an internationally recognized authority on the biology of freshwater sponges. Harrison served as editor of the 15-volume encyclopedic treatise on the functional anatomy of invertebrates, “Microscopic Anatomy of Invertebrates,” and was project adviser for the “Sponges In Space” experiment that flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia.