Increased interest in speech pathology leads to department growth

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    The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is squeezed for classroom space and clientele for students to work with due to a massive increase in the Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) major’s enrollment numbers over the last four years.

    According to an email from Christopher Watts, professor and chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, 150 students declared SLP as their major as of this fall, compared to 70 in 2009.

    “Most students declare as freshmen, but quite a few are changing majors to SLP – typically after they take our Survey of Communication Sciences & Disorders course," Watts wrote.

    Watts also wrote that the survey class teaches students about the diverse professional options the field holds.

    The SLP major prepares students to specialize in working with children and adults with communication difficulties, such as those who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences homepage.

    Students pursuing the major “must have skills in five areas: communication, motor, intellectual-cognitive, sensory-observational, and behavioral social,” according to the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences undergraduate webpage.

    The SLP program “allows a student to go on to a graduate program where they can complete educational and clinical requirements to become a practicing, independent professional,” Watts wrote.

    Unusual First Day for SLP students

    This year’s jump in numbers prompted the program to hold its orientation session in an unusual location.

    “Our first lab that we had was in the [Brown-Lupton University Union] ballroom on the third floor, which was very odd,” Kelli Bartlett, a senior SLP major, said.

    Bartlett, who switched into the major after taking the Survey of Communication Sciences & Disorders course, said she fell in love with SLP after learning about what speech pathologists do, where speech pathologists work and how they become certified.

    Bartlett said the ballroom was so big the professors needed a microphone in order for students to hear them.

    Lynn Flahive, assistant professor and director of the Miller Speech & Hearing Clinic, wrote in an email that orientation involved nearly 100 students.

    The session was for first-year graduate students as well as undergraduates enrolled in the COSD 40300/50300 courses or Clinical Practicum I and II, she wrote.

    “In the past, our numbers in the combined courses were about 50. This year we have 78 undergraduates in clinic and 20 first-year graduates,” she wrote.

    At the orientation, students received their clinical assignments, heard an overview of clinical procedures and completed the necessary paperwork for starting clinic involvement, she wrote.

    “After this initial clinic orientation, the students attend one of two labs,” Flahive wrote.

    The Need for Space

    Watts wrote that the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders hired new faculty and is looking for more classroom space to ease the pressure of increased enrollment in the major.

    Hanna Hunter, a senior SLP major, said she recognized that class locations have moved from being solely in the clinic to other academic buildings.

    Bartlett said she remembers when all of SLP’s major classes were held in the same classroom, but now that is no longer the case due to lack of space.

    “Most undergraduate classes meet in MSHC [Miller Speech & Hearing Clinic], but bigger sections meet in other classrooms across campus,” Watts wrote.

    Bartlett agreed with Hunter about recognizing the increase of students pursuing the major due to the lack of classroom space as well as the lack of professional workspace.

    “It stinks for us right now because our building is so small, our client list is so small and this semester in clinic we have to share clients,” Hunter said.

    Due to the increase in enrollment in SLP courses, the department has come up with a possible solution to alleviate the classroom space crunch.

    Watts wrote that the department is looking to “win approval for the creation of a brand new facility,” which would be named the “Applied Language & Learning Institute (ALL).”

    Watts wrote that ALL would work in collaboration with the College of Education's Starpoint School and KinderFrogs School to house all three learning laboratories, which would include the Miller Speech & Hearing Clinic, Starpoint School and KinderFrogs School.

    “We don't know how many years off the reality of this idea is, but it is exciting to think about the amazing learning opportunities this learning environment will facilitate,” he wrote.

    New Hiring

    Hunter said she could tell there had been an increase in the popularity of the major as well as a change in the student-to-professor ratio.

    “There’s so many more students in my class this semester than there were last semester,” she said.

    Watts wrote that the department is “still a small program compared to many others in the state and across the nation.” But, he wrote, “student-professor ratios have increased.”

    “Courses are bigger now than they were four years ago,” he wrote.

    The department hired Irmgard Payne as a full-time clinical faculty member to help deal with the major’s growth, Watts wrote. She is also involved in the graduate-level Emphasis in Bilingual SLP program.

    Global Additions

    Changes in the SLP major are also playing out on a global scale.

    The department created more study abroad programs for the major in places including the United Kingdom, Australia, China and Chile, Watts wrote.

    The expansion of international study opportunities aids in the growth of the department and also “allows us to meet part of our mission of helping students become global citizens,” Watts wrote, referencing the university's mission statement.

    Despite the enrollment increase, the program has not implemented any changes to intensify the major’s requirements for incoming classes, he wrote.

    Classroom Experience

    SLP class topics include how to make lesson plans, how to conduct sessions with clients and, more specifically, “how to elicit speech or specific sounds,” Hunter said.

    The university's program provides hands-on experience, allowing students to work with clients in the clinic on elements such as articulation, language and voicing, she said.

    “Since it is such an intense major they [the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders department] wants to make sure the people who are in the major are the ones who want to be there and are prepared,” Hunter said.

    Students work with their clients on the specific subjects that are taught in SLP classes.

    For instance, Hunter said she works with her client on language skills, specifically regarding usage of prepositions and pronouns.

    Although students now have to share the limited pool of available clients, Hunter said she is excited to learn from working with her co-clinician.

    Why the increased interest?

    Watts wrote that he thinks the increased interest in the major stems from the promising job opportunities for those in SLP-related fields.

    “One hundred percent of our students find jobs after graduate school – I think the word has spread and more students realize the career opportunities that this profession can offer them,” Watts wrote.

    Bartlett said she is constantly being told about the need for SLP majors in school systems, nursing home facilities and private clinics to care for those with speech or hearing impairments.

    Hunter said she also saw a high level of demand for speech pathologists in the community.

    “All we are hearing about right now is how there aren’t enough speech pathologists, and it’s awesome that more students are coming in to fill that need,” she said.