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Faculty Fellow Profile: Kimberly Jenkins

Kimberly Jenkins

Faculty Fellow Profile: Kimberly Jenkins

February 21, 2024

A chance meeting at a Duke benefit concert attended by a teenage Kimberly Jenkins, PhD, SLP, guided her toward a career in speech language pathology. Jenkins had long been interested in a therapy-oriented field but was uncertain about which to pursue. Speaking with the speech language pathologist who happened to be her seatmate at the performance, Jenkins found her calling. Now a faculty fellow at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) and an assistant professor in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the UNC School of Medicine, Jenkins focuses her research on language acquisition and development in dual language learners, particularly Spanish and English, from theoretical and applied perspectives.

While earning her master’s degree at UNC, Jenkins served as a research assistant for the late Joanne Roberts, PhD, an FPG senior scientist, as well as other researchers. This piqued Jenkins’ interest in undertaking research. But she first worked in the field as a speech-language pathologist with young Spanish-English dual language learners in the NC Infant Toddler Program, Head Start programs, and public schools in central North Carolina. While she enjoyed serving and sharing information with the individual families with which she came in contact, she wished to share information on a broader scale and a broader platform.

As Jenkins—who speaks English and Spanish—became interested in the diverse linguistic profiles of dual language learners with typical language development and language disorders, she realized that she wanted to contribute to research efforts focused on understanding bilingual language acquisition and development as well as best practices for assessment and intervention with these learners. After receiving her PhD from Indiana University at Bloomington and completing postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jenkins returned to UNC where she joined the faculty.

With a guiding aim to support the overall quality of life for children and their families, Jenkins says that the long-term goal of her work is to contribute to the evidence base focused on the varied and dynamic language profiles of dual language learners. She also wishes to inform theoretical perspectives on dual-language learning and determine the most effective treatment approaches to facilitate language learning in dual language learners with language disorders.

She is carving out a niche in appropriate intervention approaches to support language learning in dual language learners, including children who need tiered educational support for language difficulties and possible low literacy skills, as well as children who have language disorders. While a wait-and-see approach is used for some children with language learning difficulties, Jenkins is working to find an evidence-based practice that can determine when an intervention should be initiated and the effectiveness of various strategies.

Jenkins is committed to helping to guide the development of least-biased assessment and culturally sensitive intervention and helping to refine assessment procedures. She also works on clinical efforts to understand language disorders within dialect. Her current research interests also include an examination of the development of grammatical skill in Spanish-English dual language learners longitudinally to improve equitable access to appropriate education services to support language development, academic development, educational equity, and socio-emotional well-being. She wants her research to be translational so the work can be a part of improving clinical and educational services for dual language learners in the United States.

Jenkins was pleased to become an FPG faculty fellow and join a community of engaged scholars in the broader UNC community. As a fellow, she has been able to lay the groundwork and establish relationships that she hopes will lead to community-engaged work. She has been an invited investigator with FPG colleagues on a U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grant submission. She is participating in collaborative scholarly work and plans to participate in IES writing groups and professional development programming and opportunities, as she has previously done.

Being a fellow has opened a new pathway for her to engage in team science with other scholars and investigators while also providing her with an awareness of and exposure to unique and innovative ways to disseminate her research. “This opportunity has also created an intellectual space that serves as a catalyst for refining my current research,” says Jenkins. “Engaging with scholars from other disciplines creates the space for me to think about the broader reach of the work that I do and to expand my collaborations.”