2014 Spring Luncheon Honoree

Dr. Katherine Harris

Katherine Safford Harris (henceforth “Kathy”) received her B.A. in Psychology from Radcliffe College and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard University in 1954. She joined the ASA the same year she received her Ph.D. She joined the research staff of the Haskins Laboratories in 1952; Haskins was her lifelong research home. In 1970, Kathy joined the faculty of the City University of New York Graduate School, was named Distinguished Professor in 1984, and Professor Emerita in 1997. While her first research focused on speech perception, it is her later, pioneering, research in EMG studies of speech production that are her most significant contributions to speech science. Today EMG research falls under the area of neuroscience research. With her first EMG publication in 1964 (Harris, Rosov, Cooper and Lysaught, 1964), she is clearly one of the founders of a research tradition that studies human behavior through neuroscience methods.

Kathy’s leadership in the area of speech production has been acknowledged from the beginning of her career. At NIH she has participated on grant review panels, as well as serving as a consultant on taskforces and advisory committees for the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders. For 20 years she was the principle investigator on an NIH Clinical Research Center Grant, directing a large number of investigators and diverse research projects. Kathy has been elected Fellow of four distinguished societies: the ASA, the AAAS, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Kathy has frequently been invited to present her research and reviews of the whole area of speech production at major national and international meetings. The significant role she has played in speech production research was further demonstrated by her leading the history lectures in Speech Communication in preparation for celebrating the 75th anniversary of ASA (Harris, Ladefoged and Stevens, 2000).

Kathy’s service to the ASA is of long-standing: she chaired the Speech Communication Technical Committee, served on the Committee on Medals and Awards, the Honors Committee, and the Committee on Special Fellowships. Kathy was a member of the Executive Council, Vice President (1990-1991), and President (2000-2001). She was awarded the Silver Medal in Speech Communication in 2005, and the ASA Gold Medal in 2007.
Regardless of the research project or the deadline, Kathy always thought about her students and colleagues as individuals. She helped her students to think more clearly and to then to express those thoughts more clearly, but left the credit for their thesis research to them. Even with a major grant deadline looming, she worried and celebrated with her students and colleagues about issues in their personal lives.
Here are personal comments that explain why Katherine Safford Harris is so important to so many of us.

“When you are with Kathy, she makes you feel that everything is going to work out, and then she finds the solution and it works out!” — Elaine Moran

“I was teaching a phonetics course during the first semester of my first teaching job. I had four speakers record a short passage (one of them was Kathy). For their term project, each student had to select one speaker and transcribe the passage. One student came to ask me which of two phonetic symbols to use to transcribe one word produced by one of the speakers. I asked “which speaker, #1, #2, #3, or #4?” The student answered: “The one who sounds like a fairy godmother.” And that was when I knew who Kathy Harris is for me and for so many of us: she is our fairy godmother, guiding us through our science–and more–as our mentor, colleague, and friend.” – Fredericka Bell-Berti

Dr. Harris is the Women in Acoustics 2014 Spring Luncheon Honoree.  Kathy is also highlighted in the Acoustics Today article, Women in Acoustics: Honoring Some of Our Heroes.