Hugh Catts named 2016 PHHP Alumnus of the Year

The College of Public Health and Health Professions has named Hugh Catts, Ph.D., the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year in recognition of his leadership and scientific contributions to the early identification and prevention of reading disabilities.

Catts, who received a master’s degree (’77) and doctorate (’79) in speech from the department of speech, language, and hearing sciences, is a professor and director of the School of Communication Science and Disorders at Florida State University. He spent much of his career as a professor and researcher at the University of Kansas. He has taught courses in language science and literacy development and disabilities. His research interests include the early identification and prevention of reading disabilities. Catts is a past board member of the International Dyslexia Association and past board member and president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading. He has received the Samuel T. Orton Award from the International Dyslexia Association and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Honors of the Association for his career contributions in each of these disciplines.

Here, Catts shares some of his UF memories and insights:

My favorite UF memory: I have so many great memories from my days as a graduate student at UF that it is not possible to pick a single one. I remember the long hours spent in the lab in the old Arts and Science Building, testing subjects (often infants) and running analyses. I can still smell the spectrograms coming off the old Kay Electric. Fortunately, we could open the windows. Beyond academics, we had great times on the weekends with football games or surfing trips to the coast.

Best advice for new graduates: Avoid people who are overly confident and critical. They are often wrong. Seek out colleagues who give you some mental space and allow you to fumble around on the way to a good idea.

Favorite professor: I owe a great deal to my mentor, Dr. Paul Jenson. I took his class on infant speech perception during my senior year and really enjoyed it. Despite my long hair and barely adequate G.P.A., he saw some academic potential in me and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. Paul was a real “gentlemen and scholar.” He treated his students with great respect and taught them to appreciate the wonders of science. He also had a pretty good tennis game and we played many matches in the hot Florida sun. He was highly competitive and hated to lose; I let him win occasionally!

People would be surprised to know: Dyslexia runs in my family. My brother had significant reading problems and struggled throughout his education. I had some initial difficulties learning to read and remain a very poor speller. Writing was a real challenge for me when I began my career but it is now the favorite part of my job. Experiencing some of the problems faced by those with dyslexia has had some advantages. Because I have spent my career studying dyslexia and related disorders, it has given me first hand insight into these conditions. In addition, it has been quite rewarding to gain some success in a skill for which I initially was so bad. Now if I could only do the same with my golf game.