Around the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) they call him “Zen Ken.” That’s because Kenneth Newton, MS, CCC-SLP, assistant professor in the University’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) department, realizes life can be difficult and he likes to remind students to relax and breathe while they’re trying to navigate the challenging waters of graduate school.

Ken NewtonNewton believes that advice has been even more critical during the pandemic. 

“It (the pandemic) threw us a curveball, but that allowed clinical educators to use our critical thinking skills in a whole different way in the area of technology,” he said. “The skills that I didn’t think I had I was able to discover and then utilize them effectively.” 

He said he found that aspect of the pandemic challenge exciting because clinical educators were kind of in the same boat as the students. Students had no previous example on how to use the virtual technology to its fullest educational potential before the pandemic hit, and neither did the clinical educators.

“It was a collective learning experience, which is what working with graduate students is all about,” said Newton. “When you’re working with a graduate student, we don’t expect them to come in knowing everything. We kind of get to the level of what their needs are and set up that supervisor/student relationship and build on that.”

Ken NewtonNewton first joined the SLP faculty not long after the program started in 2015. He was attracted to Salus by the involvement of the faculty and the number of clinical educators from different backgrounds. Aside from working with students in externships, it would be his first full-time academic teaching job. 

“It was a great mesh of different varieties of people within my profession who I could learn from and also share my knowledge,” he said. 

Over the past five years, Newton has been an integral part of helping the SLP department evolve and grow. With a Bachelor of Science degree from Stockton University and a Master of Science degree from Nova Southeastern University, Newton spent the first part of his career working with pediatric patients in school settings. He eventually started his own practice and then transitioned into working with adults suffering from stroke and dementia in a variety of settings, bringing a wide range of experience with him to Salus.

His time in the SLP department has been “a wonderful experience” and he attributes a lot of it to the leadership.

Bob Serianni (chair and program director) is an excellent leader. His leadership for the students, faculty and clinical educators has been exemplary,” said Newton. “If we have a vision, he allows us to come with that vision and develop it. That’s been beneficial for everyone. He allows us to express how we think the program can be better. He’s always open to ideas for our vision.”

While at Salus, Newton has also been involved as a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee; enjoys professional days when all the colleges gather together and exchange ideas; and has invited students from the Physician Assistant Studies and Audiology programs into his therapy sessions with SLP patients for interdisciplinary experiences the University is known for.

Ken NewtonWhen he’s not helping train the next generation of SLPs, he is an avid photographer, which he’s been able to continue throughout the pandemic. He and his ex-husband of 27 years also have two children, Jesse, 25, and Lucas, 24.

In 2017, Newton was thrown a pre-pandemic curveball of his own when it was discovered he had cancer, which he has battled but recently found out has been advancing again. It was during these trying times that he’s emphasized even more his “Zen Ken” approach of relaxing and breathing, something he not only practices himself and encourages his students but also incorporates into some of his therapy methods.

He points out that the Salus family — and in particular the SLP department — has really stepped up to support him during his personal struggles. And, that’s not unlike how all SLP students are meant to feel when they enter the program, he said. 

Ken Newton“The faculty within my program have held me up through this in ways that you wouldn’t believe. Sending me meals, coming and sitting with me during treatments, just checking up on me. And, they became a family,” he said. “The way that they treated me is the way that we treat our students. Each cohort that comes through is treated like a family and we get to know these students. We really do believe in our students and we really do want to support them. Not only academically and clinically, but the whole student. If there is something going on we want to know about so we can try to help them.” 

For now, Newton is going to take it a day at a time and keep sharing his expertise and his “Zen Ken” advice. 

“I love sharing the knowledge with students and getting to the level in which their needs are met,” he said. “Helping them to build their critical thinking skills that are needed for our profession is very exciting. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”