Friday, April 12, 2024

Three Iowa Reading Research Center student employees were nominated for Student Employee of the Year—Assistive Technology Coordinators Grace Cacini and Natalie Schloss and Student Writer Sydney Smithgall. Of the 99 nominees across the University of Iowa, Cacini was among three finalist, winning the administrative support category for 2024. 

Each year, the university recognizes student employees for their work on campus. Supervisors nominate students who they believe exemplify the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Career Readiness Competencies, such as leadership and teamwork. Finalists are selected based on reliability, quality of work, initiative, professionalism, and uniqueness of contribution.

Cacini and Schloss began working as assistive technology coordinators at the IRRC in the fall of 2022. Since then, they have led over 50 assistive technology consultation appointments with families of children with reading difficulties. During these appointments, they model apps and devices that support reading and writing. Additionally, Cacini and Schloss have created numerous handouts and helpful how-to videos for an assistive technology eLearning module hosted on the IRRC’s Caregiver’s Resource Hub. 

“I appreciate their willingness to go beyond the responsibilities of their current role and think of new ways to apply their skills and knowledge about language development,” said IRRC Interim Director Ben Walizer.

Their new podcast, Speaking of Literacy, is a perfect example of that. In the podcast, Cacini and Schloss interview professionals in the field of speech, language, and hearing science to shed light on how their work supports the teaching of reading and writing skills.

Outside of her work at the IRRC, Cacini is an undergraduate research assistant in the UI Psycholinguistics Lab and a teaching assistant for UI REACH. Looking ahead, Cacini is graduating this spring and is considering various graduate programs in speech-language pathology. 

When not working at the IRRC, Schloss assists with research in the UI Stuttering Lab and plays in a flute ensemble. She plans to continue her speech and hearing coursework and prepare for her senior thesis.

Smithgall, a third-year student studying creative writing, began working at the IRRC in the summer of 2023. They create literacy resources for families and educators, including writing prompts and guides, blog posts, reading lists, and podcast listening guides. Smithgall also regularly reviews and provides feedback on student and staff writing for clarity and accessibility. 

When asked about the challenges of being a student writer for the IRRC, Walizer noted two factors. “First, we produce a massive amount of written content. Second, our content is held to a high standard. Our audience isn’t just the university or the state—people across the country read our content,” Walizer said. Through their thoughtful writing and revision, Smithgall consistently rises to that challenge.

Outside of their work at the IRRC, Smithgall is the executive editor at the student publication New Moon and a writing fellow through the UI Honors Department. They plan to apply for MFA programs in creative writing this fall.

Through their work, Cacini, Schloss, and Smithgall support the IRRC’s mission of improving literacy for K-12 students in Iowa. The Student Employee of the Year award provides an opportunity to recognize their contributions to the center and the university.