Internationally renowned for her specialization in sociolinguistics and cultural anthropology, and with expertise in communication disorders including diagnosis, treatment and bilingual issues, the William Smith Alumnae Association recently presented Dr. Kay Payne ’73 with its highest honor – the Alumna Achievement Award.
Payne, professor of communication sciences and disorders at Howard University’s School of Communications, was recognized at Hobart and William Smith during a special ceremony on Saturday, March 5. Established and first awarded in 1999, the Alumna Achievement Award honors alumnae who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in their business, profession or community service, and who have brought great honor and distinction to William Smith College.
“You have no idea what an honor and a privilege it is for me to stand here and receive this award,” said Payne, who was lauded with multiple standing ovations. “I’m telling you it was nothing that I ever anticipated, nothing that I ever worked toward, but just to be here and walk these streets some 43 years after graduating, was nothing that I ever imagined. It really overwhelms me and I’m just so proud. I think this is the greatest moment of my life.”
During her career, Payne helped create the first software program to improve the scores of minority students on the PRAXIS examinations, which evaluates individuals for entry into teacher education programs. She is the author of three best-selling books and two CD ROMs related to PRAXIS and has developed two distance-learning courses for PRAXIS delivered via the Blackboard course management system. Many users of these materials attribute their passing scores to Payne.
Among her many accomplishments, Payne has been awarded the Fulbright Fellowship twice to do research in Egypt and India, exchange fellowships in Brazil and China, a Ford Foundation Research Fellowship in Namibia, and a travel fellowship in Russia and Ukraine. She has been named a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and more recently received the prestigious Scholar-Mentor Award from the National Black Association for Speech, Language, and Hearing. The award is given to an outstanding professional who has been involved in the mentoring of black students in speech-language pathology, audiology and/or speech-hearing sciences through research, clinical, administrative and/or academic activities.
Payne received her Ph.D. from Howard University in communication sciences and disorders.
At the ceremony, President Mark D. Gearan gave the introduction and Assistant Vice President for Advancement, Alumnae Relations and National Regional Network Kathy Killius Regan ’82, P’13 presented the award.
“For her commitment to ensuring equity in standardized tests, for her important contributions to the field of communications, for her keen insight into the intersection of diversity and language, and for the important difference she has made in the history of her alma mater, we honor our 16th recipient Dr. Kay Payne,” Regan said.
Payne received the award during the Colleges’ first Multicultural Career and Networking Conference, at which she served as keynote speaker.
Noting her enduring leadership and connection to the Colleges, Gearan lauded Payne as an exemplary alumna.
“She entered college at a tumultuous time in our nation’s history – a world in which the Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam played such an important part in one’s undergraduate years,” Gearan said. “Along with her classmates, she took an active role in addressing these issues of social justice.”
With the help of her classmates, Payne helped found what is now Sankofa: The Black Student Union, as well as the Black House, a place on campus where minority students could live and celebrate their culture. Her student activism also led to new academic offerings, including courses in black studies.
In her keynote address, Payne offered four points for students to consider, including “embrace, value and seek diversity,” “think large and aim high,” “choose the right friends” and “don’t be the smartest person in the room.”
“Value diversity not only because it is the right thing to do, but because without diversity we limit the horizon of human achievement,” she said. “Strive for inclusion in all relevant situations – not just token inclusion or lip service.”
Her speech focused on the theme of “The Right Stuff,” an acknowledgement to the Mercury Seven astronauts’ historic mission in space.
“These were human beings who did more than dream; they pushed the envelope, going higher and faster than anyone had gone before,” she said. “Risking their very lives, they went undaunted into an adventure that has had a permanent and profound impact on the history of humankind. … like the Mercury Seven astronauts, you stand at the threshold of another amazing adventure-the rest of your life.”