Alumnus returns to U for hearing-impaired son

On a windy Tuesday evening, audiology graduate student Jay Aust took a break from school and work to spend time with his two sons in the front yard of their Coon Rapids home.

During the daytime, Aust, 44, attends his graduate classes, helps in the Department of Speech/Language/Hearing Sciences as a lead teaching assistant and works part time at a funeral home.

But as long as his sons were awake that night, his other responsibilities were put on hold.

Aust watched as Tanner, 7, raked newly-fallen autumn leaves only to have his 5-year-old brother, Trevor, undo the work by rolling into the pile.

The 5-year-old slowing down his brother’s chores is also the inspiration and catalyst for Aust’s decision to fill his schedule with graduate work, because Trevor is hearing-impaired.

In the mid-1980s, Aust said he earned degrees in psychology and mortuary sciences from Hamline and the University, respectively.

After working at a funeral home for 17 years, he said he decided to search for a new career.

About the same time, his wife, Lynn Aust, said they suspected something was wrong with Trevor, when he was just a few months shy of 2 years old. She said they often had to use loud noises, such as clapping, to get his attention.

Trevor went through tests that showed he had a hearing impairment. The family decided to have Trevor use hearing aids in both ears, Jay Aust said.

After the diagnosis, Jay Aust said, he had a new idea for a career while playing a game on the floor with Trevor.

“I looked at him and a light bulb came on in my head,” he said. “So I jumped online and Googled audiology.”

Jay Aust said he wanted to know the challenges his son would face and help other families in similar situations.

“I was dealing with people that had expertise, but they never walked the walk,” he said. “I thought, How cool would it be for me to actually have gone through the whole process and be able to relate back to these people?”

It took some soul searching, but Jay Aust said, he realized a career in audiology was a natural fit and decided to come back to the University.

Jay Aust is in his third year in the graduate audiology program, and said he hopes to someday run a private pediatric care practice.

Although the third-year audiology graduate program at the University consists of three other students, Ashley Waters, Sarah Osberg and Kristen Walley, they all agree on one notion: they can’t complain about how busy they are compared with Jay Aust.

Despite having responsibilities outside his home, Jay Aust said he makes sure to set priorities with his family in mind.

“I wasn’t going to sacrifice any more time from my kids than I would possibly have to,” he said.

When he comes home at night, Jay Aust said he doesn’t just lock himself in a room so he can study.

After playing outside Tuesday, Jay Aust read with his sons and waited for them to fall asleep before hitting the books.

Walley, who jokingly refers to Aust as “the man who gets no sleep,” said she receives e-mails from Aust anywhere from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.

“I give kudos to him because I don’t know how he does it,” Lynn Aust said.

Last August, his life experience led to further recognition. Eden Prairie-based Starkey Laboratories, a hearing aids manufacturer, awarded him with a $10,000 William F. Austin Scholarship.

“I was absolutely shocked,” he said.

Sara Burdak, Starkey Laboratories director of student affairs, said his commitment and desire to change careers for audiology research contributed to his recognition.

She said she did not know anyone else who switched careers because their child was diagnosed with a hearing impairment.

“You don’t see a lot of people willing to shift gears,” Burdak said. “It’s incredible that he is devoted to a new career in audiology.”