Skip to main content
Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski and students

Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski (back left, in white), professor emerita of communication sciences and disorders, with Augustana students in the eastern region of Mondulkiri at the Elephant Valley Project. Dr. Jakielski and her husband have sold their home and most of their belongings and will move to Cambodia in July. 

Taking the leap: Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski following her passion in Cambodia

Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski, professor emerita of communication sciences and disorders, spent many years teaching ethical service learning to Augustana College students studying abroad in Cambodia. 

“We talked a lot about what it means to walk in a culture of which you are not a member and how you do that ethically and responsibly,” she said. 

Through those study abroad trips, her own volunteer work and her time as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar last academic year, Dr. Jakielski has traveled to Cambodia for more than a decade, making one to three trips annually.

She retired from Augustana in June 2022 and – taking her own lessons to heart – she spent a lot of time “thinking about ways to close doors” during what she thought was her last working trip to the Southeast Asian nation. She took special care to “tie the bow” on the many professional relationships she had developed.

“I really wanted to be thoughtful in the way I exited the country. I didn't think it was going to play a huge role in my life – not like it has over the past 10 years.”

Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski and Dave Yordy
Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski and her husband, Dave Yordy, on a sunrise hike to Phnom Bakheng Temple.

But then plans changed. In November she mentioned to her husband that maybe they should make a leap: he could retire early from his demanding engineering job and they could move to Cambodia together. Now the couple has sold their home and most of their belongings. They have one-way tickets and their adventure begins July 9. 

Dr. Jakielski said the new plan is not to have one. 

“No one was more surprised than me and my Cambodian friends,” she said. “I told them that they were not going to believe my news.”

Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski at temple
Dr. Kathy J. Jakielski at the East Mebon Temple.

For their first year, she will primarily work in an administrative role with an NGO in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city. Together with a medical school, the NGO is starting the first academic program of its kind in the country to train medical professionals to become dysphagia clinicians, preparing them to assist those impacted by the swallowing disorder that affects children and adults who have experienced stroke or head injury.

The initiative is funded by a three-year grant, and the ultimate goal is to turn this academic and clinical program over to Cambodians to lead. She said that the NGO hopes the medical school will turn it into a regular academic offering.

Dr. Jakielski will also continue her passion of teaching Augustana students by serving as co-supervisor when Alex Jones, CSD professional faculty instructor and clinical supervisor, brings graduate students for three-week clinical experiences. Jones, who first traveled to Cambodia for a summer with Dr. Jakielski on a Freistat Grant, hopes to lead her first graduate student group in August 2024.

Dr. Jakielski said she and her husband, who will work with other NGOs in the region to do some sustainable gardening and alternative energy projects, plan to return to the Quad Cities four to six weeks each year to see loved ones.

“I am motivated by the Picasso quote: ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away,’” she said. “‘I feel called to give back now … and I really love to learn. Learning drives everything I have done in my life personally and professionally. I always knew I’d be busy in retirement, and this is a whole new way to learn about the country.”

She said she is excited to take in the cultural experience that one cannot glean from spending only months in a place. “I’m very excited to continue to learn and grow – and hopefully give some things away that I’ve learned that will make an impact.”

Sometimes she asks herself why she’s drawn to Cambodia, a country she describes as very hot, humid and poverty stricken; that is just beginning to make strides in recognizing individuals with disabilities; and that professionally treats women as less than men. But she’s continuing to follow her heart and continuing to make an impact on Augustana students and the world. 

“My husband and I are ready for an adventure. We’re excited about our decision. And we're making it up as we go,” she said. “We don’t know what we don’t know, but we are going open minded. Our futures will be filled with learning as much as we can.”

If you have news, send it to! We love hearing about the achievements of our alumni, students and faculty.