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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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Sue Earnest in 1988 Sue Earnest in 1988

A Son’s Gift Extends a Teacher’s Legacy

Les Earnest’s planned gift to the SDSU School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences honors his mother and longtime professor Sue Earnest.
By Jeff Ristine

“This will stand as a wonderful tribute to his mother, whose 26 years teaching at this campus are still being felt in our speech-language pathology classrooms and around the community.”

Sue Earnest joined the faculty of San Diego State College in 1947 for a relationship that would last some 60 years. Now, with her son’s help, her impact will live on in perpetuity.

“Dr. Sue,” as she came to be known, co-founded a community speech and hearing clinic and the program that evolved into San Diego State University’s highly ranked School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) of today. The planned gift from Les Earnest will support a major endowment in her name to provide scholarships for SLHS master’s students, many of whom remain in San Diego after completing their training.

Les Earnest is a retired and acclaimed computer scientist now living in Los Altos Hills. He attended SDSU for one year in 1949, studying engineering, before returning to Cal Tech, where he had started his education.

Among many noteworthy points in his biography are his integral roles in the founding of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and, in 1961, as designer of the first spell-checker. In 1981, he was founding director and president of Imagen Corp., which made the first desktop publishing systems using laser printers.

“I think San Diego State is a very important institution,” said Earnest, “and I particularly want to honor my mom for her good work both there and on me. I owe a great deal to her, needless to say.”

Rigorous master’s program

The scholarship endowment will support graduate students in the master’s program for careers in speech-language pathology, both as independent and collaborative team clinicians. Marked by a commitment to theoretical and research components, the speech-language pathology Master of Arts program was ranked No. 24 in the nation and first in California by U.S. News & World Report.

Housed in the College of Health and Human Services, the five-semester MA program enrolls only about 38 students each fall out of more than 400 applicants, said Tracy Love, director and professor of SLHS. Intense academic and clinical training gives students little time for jobs to support their training, she noted.

Steven Hooker, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said: “Les Earnest's generous planned gift to the School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences will contribute to the education and clinical training of master's students for decades to come. This will stand as a wonderful tribute to his mother, whose 26 years teaching at this campus are still being felt in our speech-language pathology classrooms and around the community.”

A survey of alumni in 2017 indicated more than six of every 10 speech-language pathology graduates remain in San Diego County, drawing upon what they have learned to provide services in public schools, hospitals and other medical fields, and private and non-profit organizations.

Sue Earnest moved to San Diego from North Dakota with her family at age 4. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the College of Education in 1928 and a master’s in 1938. She spent many years teaching in San Diego elementary schools and at Memorial Junior High. 

Her academic career started as assistant professor in the English and psychology departments. She moved into the Speech Arts Department the following year, a time when speech testing and public speaking were treated as priorities for all students. She co-founded speech pathology and audiology as a separate department and, in 1952, the outpatient clinic that has provided speech and language and audiology services to the campus and community for 66 years.

It wasn’t all academics for Dr. Sue (the Ph.D. was from the University of Southern California). Earnest was president of the Alumni Association in 1940, when she reportedly launched an unsuccessful campaign to fund a student union. She is credited with tracking down more than 700 “lost” alumni, and organized the first pre-1950’s class reunion. She also was active with the Mortar Board honor society.

Earnest retired in 1973 and remained close to the university as a generous donor until her death in 2007 at age 100.