Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with Engaged Learning Fellow Ella Dabney

Vocal disorders are a significant health problem that have an impact on how a person’s voice sounds, and it requires very specific care. Ella Dabney, a senior studying vocal performance and health and society with minors in health sciences and biological sciences, is researching vocal disorders among professional singers and personality as an Engaged Learning Fellow 

Ella learned about the Office of Engaged Learning because of her interest in interdisciplinary research. Through this she has not only been able to conduct her own research but also attend research conferences and gain scholarships like the Bea Medicine Award by presenting herself at a conference. Ella’s project Vocal Disorders and Personality delves into vocal therapy that “repair the effects of vocal disorders such as, phono trauma or overuse.” Ella is also studying the importance of clinician-patient relationships that “can be influential in the success of vocal therapy, as it impacts patient motivation and comfort in practicing the necessary voice therapies.” 

The inspiration for this project came from Ella’s own experience. Because of a cold, she had lost her voice for three weeks and got treatment for it at UT Southwestern’s Voice Center which helped to recover her singing voice. Ella was impressed by the “quality of care provided for singer’s specifically” which inspired her to learn more about the “relationships between voice disorders, singers, and personality.” Treatment and attention to vocal health is incredibly important when people’s professions rely heavily on their voices. 

The research process was a learning experience for Ella because of the different challenges she faced. One challenge was “efficiency of patient recruitment” since her patient pool had very specific requirements – professional and amateur singers and voice users that were experiencing vocal disorder. She also had to navigate handling situations that were out of her hands like working with businesses and their specific patient flow. These experiences helped her to learn how to interview in a convenient and efficient manner and how to organize appointments. Additionally, Ella had to work with UT Southwestern professor Dr. Carolyn Smith-Morris as well as a vocal specialist Dr. Laura Toles, which helped her develop professional skills related to motivation and organization.  

The skills and knowledge Ella has gained from this research opportunity play into her post-graduate plans as well. Ella intends to pursue a career in health care specializing in otolaryngology in healthcare for professional singers. Having prior research experience has given her the foundation to achieve these dreams! You can learn more about Ella and her project at the Fall Research Symposium on November 1st where she will be presenting her discoveries. 


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