Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP, has been the interim chair and program director of the University’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program on two different occasions in the past five years. And, he’s taken it seriously both times, not necessarily considering himself just a placeholder in the position.

Robert SerianniAfter all, there were classes to admit, classes to graduate, and an accreditation to secure. Important tasks that needed to be done to ensure the program was moving forward, even without an officially designated chair.

But the uncertainty of having a formal chair for the department is now over after Serianni was officially offered and accepted the position as announced Feb. 25, 2020, by Barry Eckert, PhD, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs of Salus.  

“I have worked with Bob since last summer in his role as Interim program director and I have observed his skills and ability to provide leadership to SLP,” said Dr. Eckert. “I look forward to continuing to work with him in SLP as the new College of Health Sciences, Education and Rehabilitation (CHER) emerges.”

Salus has created a new College of Health Sciences, Education and Rehabilitation (CHER) by combining its College of Health Sciences and its College of Education and Rehabilitation. CHER will house the University’s programs of Blindness and  Low Vision (BLVS) Studies, Physician Assistant (PA) Studies, Biomedicine, Occupational Therapy (OT), SLP and a Post-Baccalaureate in Health Sciences program.

Serianni found out about the promotion on the same day he had been accepted into the doctoral program at Temple University. He’ll continue to pursue his doctorate in Higher Education, hoping to study how to diversify the field of speech-language pathology.

SLP students“Certainly I have a lot of vested interest in the program, seeing that I came here to help start it,” said Serianni, who came to Salus during the SLP department’s inaugural year in 2014 to serve as clinic director. “I guess I was shy at first because this is my first academic job. Having the mentorship from our previous chairs really inspired and encouraged me to know that I could move up in the academic world. And, I think the faculty that is here also did that. I appreciate the support of the faculty and staff that work here. The whole group really said, ‘You can do it.’”

Serianni served at interim chair the first time in 2017, after the retirement of the department’s founding chair and program director, Dr. Carolyn Mayo, who moved back to her home state of North Carolina. He had again been asked to serve as interim chair in July 2019, which was a critical time for the department.

One month later, in August 2019, the SLP program received its full accreditation from the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA).

“One of our biggest hurdles was becoming accredited. Now that we have solidified our curriculum, it’s time to expand other opportunities,” said Serianni.

SLP studentAccording to Serianni, one area of expansion is in the development of elective courses. 

“We have a core curriculum, and now based on feedback from students and interest from our faculty, we’re able to expand to offer specialty electives,” said Serianni. “Like students who are interested in doing augmentative communication – communication using computer systems – we have a core course on that, but students who want to go deeper into that as part of their professional goals, we might have an advanced course. We have a standard swallowing course – dysphagia is the course name – and a lot of students want to advance their skills in that area or to specialize in pediatric swallowing disorders. So we’re thinking about adding additional coursework in those areas.”

And, that’s not all Serianni sees for the program’s future. Among the other things he’d like to pursue includes an expansion of international experiences for both American-based students and international students; and pursuing the research agenda of the faculty.

“I think faculty research is important because not only will that help our faculty be better known throughout the community but it also introduces the community to Salus,” said Serianni. “If we produce good research, then that comes back to us in the interest from students, interest from new faculty, interest from the profession.”

SLP white coatsThe SLP program currently has 69 students (36 first-years and 33 second-years) and six full-time faculty members. Serianni believes both of those numbers can grow.

“If we were to say start a post-baccalaureate program, we can develop a curricula that satisfies the prerequisite requirements here and then the students can matriculate as graduate students,” he said. “There is also a push to have assistants. Disciplines like physical therapy and occupational therapy traditionally uses assistants in their rehabilitation models. And, speech pathology is sort of new to that game. So our national association is now accrediting speech pathology and audiology assistants. Maybe we develop an associate’s degree or a certificate program that matriculates students into an assistant program.”

Serianni said that the difference being the chair is that the program is no longer waiting for leadership: It has arrived at leadership and can move forward with the plans for the program.

“I think that with me moving into the chair, students and the community can now see a level of confidence in the program, that we are established and moving forward. There’s no more what if, there’s no more questions about where we stand. Salus is secure in its leadership with strong faculty and committed staff. We are ready to go!” he said.