Creating Change Makers Looking To Help Others Overcome Their Speech Difficulties

While people have different reasons to get into the science of communication disorders, there is a frequent theme that binds many of them together: they want to help people. That is what Leeann Lawrence '23 and alumna Katrina Fulcher-Rood '07 shared when asked about their experiences learning to become speech-language therapists.

Lawrence '23, grew up knowing she wanted to work with kids in some way and originally considered teaching. Many of her family members are teachers but Lawrence realized that managing a full classroom would not be a good fit. She is more comfortable with individual interactions. That was what attracted her to the field of communications disorders.

Lawrence, a non-traditional undergraduate student, worked as a secretary for the special education department with an area school district when she was introduced to speech therapy and decided to pursue a degree in communications sciences and disorders.

"This profession lets me work with kids but in a different way," she said.

Lawrence loves how she can help the kids overcome an obstacle and ultimately feel more empowered. "Some of the kids may be more difficult to work with because they are frustrated, but that is why they benefit from the individualized attention."

Fulcher-Rood, now a speech-language pathologist and associate professor at SUNY Buffalo State College, was attracted to the profession for very similar reasons.

In high school, she wasn't certain of the direction she wanted to go. She had aspirations to be in broadway musicals but her parents encouraged her to consider "less risky" professions. Her high school had a job shadowing program and Fulcher-Rood's mother suggested she shadow Shawna, a family friend and speech-language pathologist, who provided early intervention services to children in their homes.

As Fulcher-Rood went through the day following Shawna, she kept seeing how the career fit aspects of her own personality. Each session was different and exciting and very people-oriented. The parents asked Shawna questions and sought her advice, valuing her expertise.

Then, during one of the sessions, a special thing happened. As Fulcher-Rood observed Shawna playing and modeling sounds with a young girl, the girl suddenly stopped and made a sound. For a moment, there was a poignant pause as the girl's parents stopped what they were doing and paid close attention to their daughter.

As they left the young girl's home, Fulcher-Rood learned the reason for the pause. It was the first time the parents heard their daughter vocalize intentionally. After that, Fulcher-Rood never looked back - she knew this was the profession for her.

Once Fulcher-Rood and Lawrence knew they wanted to learn about communications disorders, it was simply a matter of finding the right program. They found what they were looking for at Elmira College.

While geography was a factor for both, equally important was the quality of the program, the small class sizes and individual attention from instructors.

"I love my professors, they are so supportive," said Lawrence. "It's like having a mom and dad helping answer every question and being there for you with every step we need to take."

She and Fulcher-Rood also speak highly about EC's emphasis on experiential learning and completing clinical and practical experiences as undergraduates. Lawrence is currently completing a student-teaching internship with a local school.

Now that Fulcher-Rood teaches graduate classes at SUNY Buffalo State College, she sees how this focus on early experiential learning sets Elmira College students apart.

"There is a real difference in confidence," she explained. "I think it's because EC students have the hands-on experiences right from the start."

"At EC, I was expected to talk, walk, and dress like a professional," she explained. "I was doing assessments in my sophomore year. And, because EC is so small, it forces you to ask questions and talk to your professors."

Fulcher-Rood's students who didn't complete clinical experiences as part of their undergraduate coursework often question their readiness to begin clinical experiences after four weeks of graduate classes.

Lawrence is looking forward to having this "leg up" as she contemplates a graduate degree.

"I already know what I am getting into when I get into grad school," she said.

Both Lawrence and Fulcher-Rood hope more students will investigate careers in communications sciences and disorders and join the ranks of the well-prepared Elmira College students who fit the description of "change-makers."

Learn more about the Communications Sciences and Disorders program.

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