The professor: Dr. Jack Pickering, professor of communication sciences and disorders and department co-chair, speech-language pathologist, and member of the Saint Rose faculty since 1993
The alum: Daniel Kayajian G’06, speech-language pathologist, Albany Medical Center
The project: Founders and co-directors of the Saint Rose Voice Modification Program for People in the Transgender Community
In 2006, a local counselor asked Professor Jack Pickering to help two transgender women struggling to match their voices to their gender. They encouraged him to start a group. Pickering held an open house on campus to assess interest. The response was so great that he saw he’d need a co-director.
He knew who to call: Daniel Kayajian, who graduated from Saint Rose after completing his thesis on transgender voice.
“The timing was amazing, and with Dan’s help and our wonderful graduate students, we started the group in the spring of 2008,” recalls Pickering.
One evening a week, they spend two hours in the Winkler Center, starting with mindfulness, vocal warmups, and expressions of gratitude and working individually with eight to 10 people to modify their voices to match their identities.
Here, Pickering and Kayajian discuss their program, which has now supported 200 transgender individuals.
On their rapport:
Pickering: I met Dan when he was in my class – Voice Disorders. I remember his interest and enthusiasm with voice disorders as a specialty area. We talked about the clinical area of voice and the potential for a thesis project [which he did under the direction of Dr. David DeBonis.]
Dan was easy to talk with and an excellent student. I wanted to help him meet his needs as soon as I discovered his interest in voice disorders. I was on his thesis committee.
Kayajian:: After college [for his undergraduate program], I worked in the beverage industry for four years, followed by several years in physical therapy. I ultimately felt speech pathology was the best fit. I chose Saint Rose due to the outstanding reputation of the communication sciences and disorders program.
After having a conversation with Jack over the telephone, he encouraged me to take one class to get a feel for the program and meet some of the faculty. That is all it took. I was all in – the support, guidance, and quality of faculty was the best I had ever experienced.
On the importance of the work:
Pickering: We have a chance to work with someone who is trying to connect their voice and communication with their identity. To be able to share in another’s journey in this way is special, rewarding, and humbling.
And to include students in the mix provides a chance to inform the next generation about a clinical practice that is meaningful in so many ways. It has been loads of fun to do this with Dan, a valuable colleague and friend.
Kayajian:: So very true!
Pickering: Dan and I share in planning and implementation. Dan is the master of vocal warmup and does a lot to make sure our students and clients have exercises that are helpful in our clients’ vocal transitions. He also supports the student clinicians in clinical report writing. Otherwise, we co-treat and supervise equally during our two-hour group sessions.
Kayajian:: While it is true that we share equally during our sessions, it should be noted that behind the scenes, Jack does a tremendous job of maintaining solid connections with the LGBTQ+ community, clients, local counselors servicing transgender individuals, and other community speech pathologists interested in TG voice.
On one client who inspires you:
Kayajian:: One comes to mind. I think of how reserved she was initially and her lack of confidence. She certainly blossomed in terms of her voice and nonverbal communication.
She presents so confidently now, is very positive, and has been a leader and wonderful advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, not to mention her participation in the counseling classes [clients come to the counseling class that Pickering and Dr. Bob Owens teach]. She will join us, even though she no longer needs to come to the voice program, to mentor other clients.
On important moments:
Pickering: For me, it was shortly after working with our first two clients in 2007 and collaborating with them to start a group. It was an amazing shared experience, one that allowed me to learn as I taught our clients about their voices. Then, we had an incredible response to our open house, which was overwhelming. It did not take long to discover how important this work was.