Majors at CSB/SJU: English & Psychology
Graduation Year: 2006
Graduate School: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Master's in Speech-Language Pathology, May 2010
Current Position: Speech-Language Pathologist, Triton School District
Please give a brief description of your current position:
I am working as the Speech-Language Pathologist for the Triton School District in Dodge Center, MN. My interests involve children, autism, and early intervention services; I'm working with children in the elementary school.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current position?
After graduating from CSB I didn't have a definite direction, but knew my interests lie in social service positions and working with children. I also had a budding interest in autism after touring the Fraser Child and Family Center for my Abnormal Psychology course; they have an intervention program for preschoolers on the autism spectrum. I decided to take some time off from school to gain work experience and discover my areas of greatest skill and interest. Shortly before graduating, I came upon an ad posted by a family seeking someone to provide aid and therapy for their 9-year-old child with autism and verbal apraxia (a speech disorder). I replied to this ad, was hired, and subsequently began what would become a two-year position working with this boy and his family. I was instantly both challenged and inspired by this work, and knew I had found a skill area that stood out for me. This initial position led me to continue to seek out work experience with children with special needs. That fall, I started working at Fraser where I remained for two years, eventually taking on the title of Mental Health Practitioner. In addition, I worked part-time for St. David's Center for Child and Family Development, where I assisted with their after-school Adventure Program for youth and young adults with special needs. All of these experiences allowed me to assist and interact with many different young people, all with unique strengths and challenges. I especially enjoyed the task of discovering how to connect with someone and learning to communicate in many unique and indirect ways. It was while at Fraser that I was first introduced to the field of speech-language pathology and able to directly observe many speech therapy sessions that the kids attended. Through my observations I learned several strategies that I was able to apply within my own work and, seeing the success they brought about, I was inspired to learn more about the field. I began to see the powerful effects that improving communication had on their everyday lives and I could see myself practicing the profession. I recently completed a graduate degree in speech pathology.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Get connected with practicing SLPs and start observing various work settings. I didn't know this job was for me until I saw it first-hand. Speech-language pathology is a very broad field and can range from school settings, to inpatient or outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, extended care facilities, or even home care. You can work with any age, across the lifespan. Try to gain a comprehensive view of all areas covered in the profession, from hearing to feeding/swallowing, and the range of speech and language disorders. Start gaining an idea of which age group you enjoy working with most.
But also, don't be afraid to wander a little and experience other fields. Allied Health fields often work together as part of a therapy team, and it pays to explore related options in case there is a better fit (occupational or physical therapy, for example). Additionally, gaining experience working with a variety of people is invaluable. Even if you don't have your dream job straight out of college, each experience can provide you with greater clarity about your own strengths and preferences. It's important to gain a wide variety of experiences that can let you explore various roles.
What skills are important in your field?
I think most people who enter this field have a natural desire to help people and so must have a patient nature, as well as the persistence to take small steps towards a larger goal. Also important is the ability to problem solve by applying knowledge and then integrating this knowledge with that of other fields. Speech-language pathologists often work as part of a team with a variety of other disciplines (physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, etc.), so the ability to work as part of a group is important, too. Good communication skills are obviously a necessity, as this work revolves around communication with clients, parents and families, and other professionals.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
Speech-language pathology is a rewarding career in countless ways. Helping people overcome a communication difficulty and seeing how it improves their relationships with others and their overall quality of life is always uplifting. Seeing a child begin to respond to a strategy that you've introduced is very motivating, and it encourages you to keep working towards new goals.
What is most challenging?
A challenge of the profession is having the ongoing patience to get to know each client's unique learning and interaction style, and then being able to adapt your knowledge to a variety of people and situations.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Volunteering in service-orientated positions, such as the Fast Forward Youth Program (tutor-mentoring), or Journey Home (a half-way house for mothers with chemical addictions and their children) was a great way to gain experience interacting with children and people from diverse backgrounds. Also, each of my jobs after college allowed me to experience and observe various roles within mental health and social service settings. Each experience you gain that allows you to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to help others is an invaluable learning experience. These experiences also help confirm your interests and skills, or steer you in a new direction.