Women's Giving Circle Grant Funds Research on Acoustic Quality of Campus Learning Spaces

U of A alumna Jamie Zakovec will work with two faculty members to evaluate the sound quality in several campus auditoriums. Their work will be funded by a Women's Giving Circle grant.
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U of A alumna Jamie Zakovec will work with two faculty members to evaluate the sound quality in several campus auditoriums. Their work will be funded by a Women's Giving Circle grant.

Inspired by her brother's experience, Jamie Zakovec decided to evaluate the sound quality within U of A campus educational facilities. These findings could impact all faculty and students in the room, no matter their level of hearing ability.

Zakovec, who graduated in May from the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, partnered with two U of A professors, Jennifer Webb and Rachel Glade, to apply for a Women's Giving Circle grant.

Their proposal, "No-Auditory-Um: Assessing the Acoustic and Spatial Interior Environments in University of Arkansas' Auditoriums," received $19,874, the largest amount handed out in the organization's recent grant cycle.

The proposal will allow them to train a group of students and equip them with basic tools such as light and sound meters. Those students will then visit the largest campus auditoriums and record the data in the natural setting over multiple days.

Glade, Ph.D., is an associate professor and program director of the communication sciences and disorders program in the College of Education and Health Professions. She is a highly credentialed speech-language pathologist with experience in classroom settings. Webb, Ph.D., is an associate professor of interior architecture and design and assistant dean of graduate studies. She brings a depth of experience in assessing the built environment and its effects on people.

To pursue this project, Webb, Glade and Zakovec are seeking U of A faculty who'll agree to have the researchers visit their classes while in session following the appropriate Institutional Review Board approval processes. Faculty teaching in the largest auditoriums are invited to participate.

Zakovec, an honors graduate with a Bachelor of Interior Design, is now an interior designer at Modus Studio in Fayetteville. Her inspiration for this work is her brother, Jake Zakovec, who graduated in 2019 from the U of A with a Bachelor of Science in recreation and sport management. He was born deaf and wears cochlear implants.

While at the U of A, he didn't register with the Center for Educational Access mainly because he didn't want to deal with paperwork or labels. He simply wanted to be a college student.

His frustration with the learning environments on campus resonated with his sister. With her training as an interior architecture and design student, she knew she could help find solutions to some of the difficulties he encountered — such as background noise, faculty neglecting to wear microphones, poor sound quality and other barriers.

Her brother's experiences made Zakovec want to better understand these spaces designed for an education that is primarily communicated through the spoken word. Quality acoustics are paramount to learning.

Zakovec's honors capstone project involved a research protocol with mixed methods, providing for both quantitative and qualitative data. She collected photographs, architectural drawings, sound and light readings and evaluations of materials of four auditoriums on campus.

But that project was just her doing all the work. And she collected data when the classrooms were void of students and faculty.

This Women's Giving Circle grant funding will allow a richer study, with multiple data points collected on different days and under different conditions.

This research is valuable for the entire U of A campus and especially for the estimated 377 students with hearing loss, Webb said. Beyond that, though, the World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion young people are at risk of "Music Induced Hearing Loss," in which users of headphones and earbuds experience permanent hearing damage.

Data shows reduced academic performance for all students in spaces with poor acoustics, she said. Poor acoustics also negatively impact students who are dual language or who have learning disabilities, as well as faculty within their teaching environments.

Webb said the group's findings could effect widespread positive changes on campus. They plan to share results through departmental presentations and through the Teaching and Faculty Support Center, as well as with the U of A Facilities Management Office and the Provost's Office. They'll also share the work through academic conferences and publications.

Faculty teaching in large auditoriums are invited to participate in the data collection. If you are a student, faculty or staff member with hearing loss, and you would like to participate in the research, you are also invited to participate in the study. You may contact Jennifer Webb at jwebb@uark.edu or Rachel Glade at rglade@uark.edu for details. 

Contacts

Jennifer D. Webb, assistant dean for graduate programs
Department of Interior Architecture and Design
479-575-6662, jwebb@uark.edu

Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design
479-575-4704, mparks17@uark.edu

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