top of page

BFA Thesis: Solving the Mystery of Stuttering

I attended the Cleveland Institute of Art from 2010-2014, graduating with a BFA in Biomedical Art. At the Cleveland Institute of Art, a Thesis project is required of each senior, a yearlong project in which each student creates a body of work and presents it to the CIA community and outside experts and defends their advisors' and audience's critique. When faced with my own senior BFA thesis, I chose to confront a scientific conundrum that affects me personally: developmental stuttering. "Solving the Mystery of Stuttering" is a 2D educational animation targeted toward middle school children who stutter. Since this animation is nearing a decade old, some of the research may be outdated or our collective knowledge on the topic may have advanced since then, but I continue to present the project as-is, as a record of the successful completion and defense of the culmination of my education at CIA. "Solving the Mystery of Stuttering" was awarded the Award of Excellence in Student Animation at the 2014 Association of Medical Illustrators annual conference.


There are numerous hypotheses about why people stutter, none of which have been fully validated. It is even a possibility that there is no single “cause” of stuttering, and that it is instead a multifactorial, dynamic disorder with ever-changing underlying processes (Guitar 96). In short, the unsolved nature of stuttering makes it a considerably complex topic. During the initial research for this project, it became apparent that few resources exist for people who stutter that actually explained the theories of stuttering in a way that they could be understood by a general audience. There also exist a great deal of myths and assumptions surrounding stuttering (Reitzes and Snyder) which facilitate this lack of knowledge on the subject. Additionally, these myths have a tendency to lead to lowered self-esteem in people who stutter, especially children, who are likely targets for bullying and mockery (Newman and Newman 290). An effective therapeutic technique to help stutterers with negative attitudes is to speak openly about it and to educate others (Guitar 280). In order to do this, people who stutter must first be introduced to the current theories explaining stuttering. This was accomplished with an animation addressed to stuttering children of middle school age. Through the use of metaphor, clear visuals, and an engaging narrative, some key factors of stuttering were explained in a simplified and entertaining manner. By providing this knowledge, the goal through this project was to destigmatize stuttering and instill confidence in the animation's target audience for future speaking situations.


Advisory Committee

  • Thomas Nowacki, CMI, Chair of Biomedical Art, Cleveland Institute of Art

  • Amanda Almon, CMI, MFA, Associate Professor & Program Coordinator of Biomedical Art & Visualization, Rowan University (previously Chair of Game Design, Cleveland Institute of Art)

  • David Schumick, CMI, Adjunct Faculty in Biomedical Art, Cleveland Institute of Art; Medical Illustrator, Cleveland Clinic

  • Rita Goodman, PhD, Associate Professor in Liberal Arts, Cleveland Institute of Art

  • Michelle Burnett, MA, CCC-SLP, Director, Case by Case Consulting (previously Director of Clinical Services, Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center)

Selected Resources

  • Guitar, Barry. Stuttering: An Integrated Approach to its Nature and Treatment. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. 2014. Print.

  • Newman, Barbara M., and Philip R. Newman. Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach. 9th ed. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. Print.

  • Reitzes, Peter, and Greg Snyder. Stuttering Myths, Beliefs, and Straight Talk for Teens. Memphis: The Stuttering Foundation, 2009, Digital.​

In the News:

Biomedical Grad Wins Award for Animation on Stuttering

bottom of page