It took just two weeks of volunteering at St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf for Susan Lenihan to find her calling. At the school, the then-high school senior realized the impact she could make in the world through deaf education. “It was very inspiring to see the ways people can help improve the lives of children who are deaf and hard of hearing,” she says.
Today, Lenihan is director of the deaf education program and a professor in the department of communication disorders and deaf education at Fontbonne University, her alma mater. In addition to earning her master’s at Trinity University in San Antonio and her doctorate at Saint Louis University, she spent two years in the Peace Corps in Jamaica, which sparked an interest in professional training. Lenihan is able to combine those interests at Fontbonne, where she has worked for 18 years. “We’re working with future teachers in deaf education and speech-language pathologists,” she explains. “We also have a graduate program to prepare professionals to work with families and children. We know that if professionals are going to be really effective, they need to be mentored from the beginning.”
With sophisticated technology providing cochlear implants and the opportunity for children to learn how to listen and talk, deaf education is constantly evolving, and Lenihan wants to make sure her students are aware. “They need to be life-long learners, always ready to learn about the newest ways to support the children they’re helping.”
Lenihan also sees the great importance of developing deaf education throughout the world. Through a connection with Utah State University, Fontbonne has focused on deaf education in Costa Rica, with two Costa Rican students recently graduating from the program.
In addition, a campus group, Fontbonne Community Connections, sponsored Lenihan and four students to travel to the country to help screen the hearing of more than 100 pre-school-aged children and provide key resources to Costa Rican professionals. “It’s a great opportunity for our students to get a broader view of what’s going on around the world in terms of deaf education, and for us to help those who provide services to the families in need.”
As the winner of several university awards, Linehan is highly regarded by both her students and colleagues. With endless ambition, she is involved in multiple professional organizations and projects, including a new literacy program at Fontbonne for kids who are deaf or hard of hearing. With the support of her husband, Marty, and their three children, John, Mark and Kathleen, Linehan is always eager for the next opportunity to contribute, knowing she is helping to continue the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, who came to St. Louis in 1837 to help deaf children. “That legacy has been here for so long, and I hope to continue in their footsteps.”