Alumni Merit Awards: Catherine Huff Gottfred (GC73, 79)
A student explains how acquiring speech skills earned him the respect of his teachers and made them more willing to assist him. A preschool teacher lauds educational programming for helping to reduce violence and anger in the classroom.
While Catherine Huff Gottfred has earned many awards and distinctions during her career in literacy development, she takes particular satisfaction from hearing personal stories like these.
“That’s what means the most to me — giving students and teachers the skills to close the achievement gap in America,” says Gottfred, who is president and founder of Leap Learning Systems.
Since 1988 her Chicago-based non profit has focused on language and literacy development, offering programs that increase communication skills and self confidence in thousands of underserved students across the city. Leap Learning Systems offers programs for early parenting, pre-school, K-12, and community college. It also provides training for teachers and tutors in schools, churches, and other agencies.
Indeed, this is more than Gottfred’s business — it’s her life’s passion. For the past three decades, she has served as a volunteer for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She was named a fellow in 1989 and served as president of the 130,000-member organization in 2008.
Her inspiration to create Leap Learning Systems came when she volunteered with children in the Cabrini Green housing project. There, she came face to face with the language gap that hindered their academic development.
In 1995 Gottfred received both the Louis M. DiCarlo Award for Outstanding Clinical Achievement and the Illinois Clinical Achievement Award. She is currently a board member of the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Foundation and an executive board member of the Chicago International Charter School Foundation.
In a sense, Gottfred’s work has carried on a family legacy. When she arrived at Northwestern in 1970 to study speech pathology after attending DePauw University, she was following in some notable footsteps. Her mother Mildred B. Huff (SESP54, GC64), who was a pioneering teacher of students with learning disabilities, studied at the University under pathbreaking professor Helmer Myklebust.
Gottfred taught courses on communicative disorders at Northern Illinois University, was adjunct faculty at the University of Illinois, and served on the staffs of two hospitals.
Catherine and Richard Gottfred live in Golf, Illinois, and have three adult children — including a daughter married to Wildcats running backs coach, Matt MacPherson. The Gottfreds also have six grandchildren ages 5 and younger. Quips Catherine: “It’s my own language laboratory!”