Unbeknownst to this Iowa couple until recently, their connection’s deep roots include big contributions to UIowa research

Story & photo: Julie Ostrem

When Stuart and Courtney Craig from Cedar Falls got letters from UIowa’s Psycholinguistics Lab asking if they’d re-join a long-term language study, the married couple did a double-take.

“What? You were in that study with the white vans too?” Stuart remembers asking Courtney.

As Kindergartners, Stuart and Courtney – along with about 600 other young Midwesterners -- were enrolled in a research study directed by UIowa’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Emeritus Bruce Tomblin. His goal was to examine individual differences in children’s language ability across development (from Kindergarten to 12th grade).

To do this, Tomblin knew he’d need to test many children, so it made sense for researchers to travel to them. The research team transformed large white vans into mobile testing centers, and examiners traveled to children’s homes, schools, and public libraries in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Quad Cities, and Des Moines areas. 

Both Courtney and Stuart remember the vans and the kindhearted examiners making the language tests enjoyable. Their sweetest memories of the study are the stickers, prizes, and cash they got for taking part in the research.

“Sitting in the van taking tests didn’t seem so different than taking standardized tests at school,” Stuart remembers. 

Fast forward to 2022, and CSD Assistant Professor Kristi Hendrickson picked up where Tomblin’s research left off by locating and re-testing participants from the original study.

By combining data from the former study and new results from the now mid-30-year olds, Hendrickson’s research team can better understand language growth over the lifespan.

“It is difficult to examine the evolution of language ability from childhood to adulthood because you need to follow the same individuals across decades. I am lucky to have pioneers like Bruce Tomblin, dedicated participants like Stuart and Courtney, and incredible student and staff researchers. With their help, we will be able to provide one of the most comprehensive characterizations of individual differences in language ability in existence,” she said.

As Hendrickson’s research team scrambled to track down former study participants nearly two decades later, they were undoubtedly pleased to discover two former study contributors right in the same household.

It may seem strange that – until recently -- the research study never came up in a conversation between Stuart and Courtney. After all, they both grew up in Cedar Falls, lived near one another, and even attended the same preschool.

The Craigs have a busy – very busy --- household. They are parents to children ages 10, 8, and 6 years, and 11-month-old twins. 

But despite full schedules with work, childcare, future homeschooling, and twins on the verge of taking their first steps, the Craigs say they’re in it for the long haul.

“When I started as a kid in the language study, my dad told me that if I started it, I’d have to stick with it,” Stuart said. “I guess my obligation still stands; I’m staying with the research study for as long as they need me.”