Alaska <br>  Speech-Language-Hearing <br>         Association
Dr. Helen Dittman Beirne Scholarship

Dr. Helen Beirne Scholarship—Congratulations, 2017 Winner Eric Wichorek!

This year, AKSHA had several qualified applicants for the Helen Beirne Scholarship. Dr. Helen Beirne was instrumental in starting the Alaska Speech and Hearing Association. In memory of Dr. Beirne, the Alaska Speech and Hearing Association presents a scholarship award each year to a individual demonstrating a commitment to obtaining a graduate degree in communication development and disorders. The executive board and members wish to congratulate Eric Wichorek, winner of the Helen Beirne Scholarship! Here is just one of his responses to questions asked on the Dr. Beirne application, as well as a few comments from Nicole Chilson’s recommendation:

  • Do you or have you worked with Alaska Native populations?

Yes. In my work as a speech-language teacher’s assistant for the ASD, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many children who represent a rich diversity of Alaska Native groups. A unique challenge to working with Alaska Native students is

exposing them to literacy in a way that is culturally meaningful to both the student and their family. Although there are many Alaska Native languages spoken throughout the state, only a few of them are accessible through print in a way that is beneficial to an early language learner. For that reason, I use Unite For Literacy which is an online library with free audio and text translations of children’s books into many different languages. Using Unite for Literacy, a Cup’ik or Inupiaq speaker is able to experience books in their native language in a way that was previously not accessible. Engaging children with their native language helps eliminate one of the many cultural barriers Alaska Native students face in the education system. In this way Cup’ik and Inupiaq speakers are given the opportunity to experience language in a manner that is completely unique to their culture and helps foster the relationship between their school and their community. As I continue my work in the field of communication disorders, I look forward to implementing and putting into practice the skills that I am learning now in a culturally significant way.

  • From the recommendation by Nicole Chilson:

Eric has a personal and professional interest in working with the Alaska Native population and with those students experiencing the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is extremely encouraging, as a supervisor, to see new clinicians (and graduate students) find and develop a passion related to this field. Eric has a B.A. in early childhood education and uses that knowledge daily in scaffolding supports for our students. He has wonderful interpersonal skills with our students and can be both firm and supportive, pushing the students to achieve their best.

Eric has been volunteering for the past four years with the Scotty Gomez Foundation, a non-profit foundation that aims to make it possible for any child to participate in hockey despite an inability to pay for equipment or ice time. Eric volunteers as a hockey coach for children aged 10 and younger. The coaches do not get paid for the physically and mentally demanding work; it is a labor of love and represents Eric's dedication to supporting and enriching his community. Amazingly, Eric has been able to successfully integrate his passion for hockey, his desire to contribute to his community and his focus on his career while being successful at all three endeavors.

“When my first son was nearing his third birthday, his pediatrician was concerned about his delayed speech and it was suggested to me that my son see a speech-language pathologist. However, in my rural Alaskan town we do not have a speech-language pathologist available on a regular basis. When I was left wondering what to do next, or asking why I couldn't give my son what he needed, I looked further into the field of communication disorders. This was the initial spark into my current journey to becoming a speech-language pathologist. Because I felt like I was standing alone in a dark room when the resources I needed for my family were not available, I would like to serve rural Alaska and share my knowledge and skills when they are most needed.  

One of the most significant and relevant realizations I have had as I am taking courses in communication disorders is that communication can vary greatly between individuals, families, towns, cities, and geographical locations. Although learning about dialects and multicultural communication disorders did not seem pertinent or interesting at the start, I have found the knowledge I have learned about communication variances between dialects and cultures incredibly significant and absolutely critical for this field. I feel that this growing knowledge has made me more sensitive and culturally competent in my rural Alaskan town. I listen with a culturally competent ear, I take my courses with a culturally sensitive mind, and I will strive to be a culturally competent clinician.”

Scholarship Background:

Dr. Helen Beirne was instrumental in starting the Alaska Speech and Hearing Association. She is remembered by a great number of individuals as a role model and mentor in the area of speech and language, and in humanitarian work. In memory of Dr. Beirne, the Alaska Speech and Hearing Association presents a scholarship award each year, to a suitably qualified candidate demonstrating a commitment to undertaking studies leading to a graduate degree in communication development and disorders. At this time, in Alaska, it is especially crucial to applaud this pursuit, given a shortage of qualified personnel to assist people experiencing communication problems. Applicants should show pursuit of studies in communication, in the area of speech/language or hearing at an accredited institution in the undergraduate or graduate department. The scholarship is valued at $1000.

The award will be determined by the AKSHA executive board based on information in the scholarship application, teacher recommendations, and/or grades. The committee may give preference to Alaska Native students and applicants working with Alaska Native populations.  Additionally, applicants for this scholarship must be ALASKA RESIDENTS.

Further information may be obtained by contacting the AKSHA Scholarship subcommittee, P.O. Box 111993, Anchorage, AK 99511 or by emailing questions attention 'Scholarship committee' at

If you are a student studying to become a Speech Language Pathologist or Audiologist please download and complete a scholarship application by August 30. Electronic submission is encouraged. Scholarships are awarded at the annual AKSHA convention in October.

Beirne Scholarship Application Form.pdf

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