"He belonged to that generation of students trained by Lee Edward Travis and Wendell Johnson at the University of Iowa in the 1930s...who were to become leaders and legends in the field of communication sciences and disorders."
- ASHA Leader, August 2003
Mack D. Steer became a world recognized authority on bioacoustics, and experimental phonetics as applied to speech-language pathology. Born in 1910 in New York City, Steer received his undergraduate degree in 1932 from Long Island University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1933 and 1938 respectively. While working on his Ph.D. under the direction of Dr. Lee E. Travis, he started the speech and hearing program at Purdue University in 1935 and served as director of Purdue’s Speech and Hearing Clinic. Like his fellow classmate, Charles Van Riper, he spent his entire career at one place retiring from Purdue University in 1976 as distinguished professor emeritus.
His contributions to the field of communication sciences and disorders and ASHA are numerous. Author of more than 135 articles and research reports, Steer was often sought out to speak at home and abroad on the subjects of psychoacoustics, bioacoustics and experimental phonetics. He was guided by a belief that basic science research was necessary to understand the workings of speech and their disorders.
Steer was a founder and first president of the Indiana Speech and Hearing Association from 1937-1939. During WW II he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve as the head of the Acoustic Laboratory, School of Aviation Medicine, Pensacola, Florida. After the war he worked with several federal agencies as either a consultant or advisor for many years.
A life-long member of ASHA, Steer joined the Association in 1934 and served as its 15th President in 1951. He chaired the Committee on Association Planning in 1953 that was instrumental in determining that ASHA needed a national office and served the following year on the Committee to Study the Establishment of a National Office which occurred in 1958 in Washington, DC. He was awarded Honors of the Association in 1958 and from 1961-1964 served as President of the American Speech and Hearing Foundation.
In addition to chairing numerous ASHA committees over the years, Steer also served as vice president of the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics over two terms in the late 1960s. His many professional memberships, in addition to ASHA, included the Acoustical Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association.
Dr. Steer passed away in 2003 at the age of 93. Like his mentor, Dr. Lee E. Travis, Steer spawned numerous future leaders in the professions. As a former student of Steer’s commented after his death, “you probably can trace a significant number of our current leaders to second and third and perhaps even fourth generation from Steer.”