Speech-Language Pathology Transfer Students Share Their Story
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Speech-Language Pathology Transfer Students Share Their Story

Join Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP, the chair and program director of the department of Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) at Salus University, as he speaks with two students who transferred into the program about how they started graduate school, why they decided to leave their proviso programs, and what attracted them to the SLP program at Salus.

Serianni: We're a really proud graduate program designed for full-time students that are interested in a lockstep program — that means our courses are sort of spelled out from the time students get here until the time they graduate. We follow this cohort model because we want students to begin to build relationships to really start to solidify their networks in the field. Your cohort is your people once you graduate.

And I think Salus has done a really good job of creating an environment where students not only learn the ins and outs of the profession, but also begin to develop their skills as professionals who develop these strong networks. So that when you find a case out in the field, you have a person to come back to. And the lockstep program really allows students to sort of know what to anticipate. That's the original design of Salus.

child playing with toysSpeaker 1: I actually was undecided when I first went into college, and I think a lot of people start off like that. I think it's rare that you just go in knowing you want to be a speech pathologist. But my mom actually introduced me to the classes because she started taking speech classes but ended up moving on to something else. So I took the intro to it and I was like, "Oh this is cool." And I like the medical side of everything but I wasn't going to try and be a doctor or anything. But speech gives you that medical aspect of working in a hospital or a rehab, working with brain injuries and stuff, so I just liked it right after the first intro.

Speaker 2: Kind of similar, I really did not know that speech pathology was what I wanted to do initially. I actually completed my undergrad degree in communication studies and I was thinking I was going to go into broadcasting and social media management. But at the time, during college, my last couple years and then for a little bit after college, I was teaching vocal lessons, and I was also performing as a vocalist on the side while I was looking for a job in the communications field. I developed vocal nodules and I had to go see a speech pathologist, and I just thought it was the coolest experience. I mean, of course for me it was pretty traumatic in the beginning to have injured my voice, which was my career at that point.

But in the long run it really helped me out because I realized that I had such a passion for that area and it was really awesome. I got to bring some of the knowledge I gained through working with that speech pathologist to my students and I could see that it really helped them achieve their goals. And that's kind of when I started to realize that I really liked the interpersonal environment of speech pathology and that idea of getting to help others. I also took the intro class then to Communications Sciences and Disorders (CSD), and the more I learned about different areas of the field the more I was sold on it. So I decided to go back and get a certificate in it and pursue graduate school.

Serianni: We're going to fast forward through the launch of your undergraduate and post-baccalaureate careers and talk a little bit about how you went about selecting a graduate program. What were some of the most important aspects you looked for in a program?

Speaker 1: For me, I was definitely looking at location and Salus is perfect, because if you want to go into the city for externships you can hopefully get a placement there. If you want to be in the suburbs and be in a school, I think it's a perfect spot because everyone's going to have a different place that they're looking for. 

But it's also location for me, being closer to home was a big part. Because having a support system at home, even if it's the program that you want, it's still a lot that you're going through. And then again for me, Salus definitely had that medical side of speech that I was looking for. I know a lot of other programs, they're Master's of Arts or something so they tend to be more educational focused, which wasn't what I'm looking to do in the long-run.

Speaker 2: I was looking at location. It was really important for me to be close to home and have my support system nearby. And then I was looking at the clinical experiences and opportunities. I was really interested in being able to get some access to more of the medical side of speech pathology, so that was important when I was looking at programs. I think too, just being able to look at the faculty that was part of the programs and see their areas of specialty and what I could potentially be exposed to.

SLI entranceSerianni: I think your experience is much like other students' experiences. "Where is my support system going to be? How close am I located?" I do know some students go, "I want to be as far away as possible," but most say, "Where is my community and how can I study in that community?" I also think students also do some legwork on the faculty and, "What kind of research are they doing and what kind of clinical experiences are they going to offer me." I also hear folks talk about cost and what's your return on investment, so to speak. "How much is it going to cost me to get through this program before I get out and start making some money as a speech pathologist."

But obviously, since I'm talking to transfer students, something happened in that previous program. When you realized things weren't going so well, what were some of the actions that you took to either repair the relationship at your previous location, or what were some of your thoughts around, "What should I do next?"

Speaker 1: I think throughout the whole time I was at the other program, I just wasn't super happy and just in general I didn't feel like it was right for me. I wanted to completely drop out of speech and my mom was like, "No, don't do that. Take a break and then just decide later."

That's when I just reached out to you, Bob, and I was like, maybe I can transfer. I have no idea if they even do that for grad programs. But I ended up calling somebody and then we talked on a video chat and I was like, "Oh, I think I'm going to transfer and actually go back to speech and finish."

It was hard, because you put so much time and effort into what you're going to do, and money also. I've already been paying for the other program and then you're like, "Okay, now I'm going to completely change what I'm doing." I'm happy I didn't. I'm happy I figured out that there was something else to do. And I think this podcast will be helpful because people don't realize you can look for another option if you don't like where you are.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I definitely think the first step was to cry and panic for a while. I had lots of long conversations with my mom about freaking out. But similarly, I was reaching a point where I felt unhappy and I was starting to get worried because I was getting further on in my program and feeling like I was not going to be prepared after graduation to get into that clinical fellowship here and really have the skills I needed to be successful in that.

That ties into what you were talking about earlier, Bob, about the return on investment. We invest so much time and money into pursuing graduate school, and I was starting to see that I wasn't getting out of it what I had wanted at my previous university. And Salus was always in the back of my mind, because I did interview with Salus and get accepted and I loved my interview. And I would catch myself thinking about, "Oh, I feel like I made the wrong decision."

I did eventually reach out to the administrative assistant of the speech department and she put me in touch with you, Bob. We had a really good conversation about some of my concerns with the other university, and it was just so nice to know that there was another option because I was really starting to feel like I was getting to that point of, "I don't know if I can do this field anymore." And I had felt so passionate about it at the start and it was really hard to get to that point of feeling like I couldn't do it. It was nice to have that light at the end of the tunnel, knowing there was another option for me.

I definitely think that a lot of students don't realize that they have options. They don't have to just feel like they're done when things aren't working out. There are other ways to get through and get to the end goal of becoming a speech pathologist.

AAC deviceSerianni: I really appreciate you sharing that because a little bit of my heart drops hearing your stories, because I read those essays that students write for their applications. And I see that some people at a really early age are called to this profession, or they discover it in undergrad but then they realize, "Oh my gosh, this is something I've been thinking about really for a really long time." Either as a performer, or you're a talker, or you have medical aspects but you didn't want to be a doctor. It all coalesces around this image or this idea of what the profession's going to be for you. And then to see the roof cave in, it pulls at my heart to hear that both of you thought, "Maybe it'd be better if I didn't pursue a dream of becoming a speech pathologist." Ultimately it didn't work out at those other programs for you and you found some rescue in Salus' program. How has the process of transferring here gone for you? 

Speaker 1: It was a lot easier than I thought. I thought it was going to be this insane process. I honestly feel like it was more work for you, Bob, because you have to do all the paperwork and everything for it. But thank you, because you made it very smooth and easy to transfer.

I think the cohort that I came in with too was very welcoming, and that made a huge difference because it just feels like more of a sense of community too than it did in my old program. Even with professors, it feels more like they're teaching you to be their coworkers, rather than just teaching at you. It's more of a together community here.

Speaker 2: The process went surprisingly smooth to transfer. That's the first difference that I'd like to highlight, I felt so valued as a student coming in as a transfer. Bob, you really took the time to sit down and talk with me and work out a schedule so that I could still graduate on time, which was huge. As I've started Salus's program, I really do feel valued as a student. And I feel like everything in this program is geared toward the student's learning, and that is the priority.

Of course, it was scary coming in, just because it's not something that a lot of people do, to transfer graduate school, so you don't really have any experiences you've heard of to go off of. But for me it was really helpful being connected to another transfer student. I have the benefit here because I'm the second one so I didn't have to come in and do it first.

Everyone is just really friendly. I did not feel like I was coming in as an outsider to this program, I felt welcomed right away. And the faculty has been extremely welcoming too and has really made the effort to make sure that I'm included and I know what's going on. Especially for some of the second year classes that I'm taking, the professors know that I wasn't here for my first year and they've done a really nice job of being aware of that and accommodating it.

The second big difference for me is how almost systematic the clinic is. I think that it is just such a nice design for students, where we get that level of support at the beginning so that we can start to build our confidence of working with clients and really gain some first-person knowledge from our supervisors. You have these foundational courses, but it's really nice to hear from someone as it relates to a client you're actually working with to get some of those tips and tricks of the field. I like that that support is faded and you can become more independent.

It's just nice that I feel like it really has a good flow to it of starting you off at a level of difficulty where you're not going to become so overwhelmed that you feel like you can't manage your clients but you're still challenged enough and you have to put in some of your own research to get there. But you have a safety net in your supervisor if you're getting really stuck.

patient with endoscopic camera and light pointed at her faceSerianni: Thank you so much for sharing your stories. I see a light in both of your eyes that I think might have been dwindling. And again, I'm going to harken back to listening to your stories, that there was a point where both of you believed, "Maybe there's something else for me out there than speech pathology." But hearing your motivation and your excitement about the program actually gets me excited about the program.

I just want to wrap up here with some advice. I think both of you touched on a lot of great ideas through your experiences. And I think ultimately this podcast will help students, either right here in our local area to talk about Salus, or maybe give them the audacity to venture away from programs that aren't meeting their needs and look for other resources in their neck of the woods.

What advice would you give to a student that isn't satisfied with their current program or looking to switch up their graduate program midstream? What would you tell them to do?

Speaker 1: It's definitely a hard decision. You have to think about everything, because it's your time that you've already put in, the credits, it's money. And a big part for me was my credits because credit-wise I was halfway or more than halfway when I was going to transfer and it set me back credit-wise, but it was weighing the options of being happier at a different program that I wanted to be at or just finishing and getting through it, which is hard. Some people might want to do it; I couldn't do it anymore.

I guess just reaching out too to direct program directors. And I didn't do this, but maybe if other students want to do it, reaching out to the program you're at and expressing your concerns. But I know that that's very scary. I don't know if you could get backlash for it, especially if you're still a student. And then things might not change too, it might just be easier to go in a different direction and look for a program that is willing to support you more and meet the needs that you're looking for.

Speaker 2: The biggest thing, for starters, don't give up and don't become discouraged. Try to explore your options. I can speak a little bit about the experience of talking to the program director at my former program. That did help me reach this decision because I feel like I had a very good conversation, but I did realize that my concerns were not going to change and were not going to be addressed. And that's when I had to realize, "Do I want to just push through and get the degree and be done, or do I want to make that change, even though it's scary?" And I did. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and eventually I realized I need to make the change. It was what was best for me.

The biggest piece that I'd like to add for anyone who is realizing things aren't going as planned and looking for change is, I know it's uncommon, but in our field we're called on to advocate for our clients. And I think the best way to build our skills in that is to advocate for ourselves. You deserve to get the quality education you want. Even though it might be scary or difficult or uncommon, I think you need to see those other options out there and make the best decision for you.