Communication Disorders Graduate Students Offer Inspiration at High School Career Day
The event serves as part of the department's effort to diversify the fields of audiology and speech-language pathology.
Last fall, graduate students in the Department of Communication Disorders participated in Holyoke High School’s "You Can Be Anything You Want to Be" Career Day. This event, held in partnership between the United States Attorney's Office District of Massachusetts and Holyoke High School as part of the Department of Justice's nationwide Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, introduces students to a wide range of careers that they might not have known or knew little about to inspire students and spark creativity and curiosity.
Graduate students Ada López González, Anna-Maria D'Ambra, Kimberlee Moise, and Mark Schilling attended the event to help raise awareness of the fields of speech language pathology and audiology. Along with introductions, they presented a brief case study that provided a real-world example and served as an interactive activity that they could work on together with the high school students. Many of the high schoolers they spoke to knew little about speech-language pathology or audiology, nor the career opportunities available to them.
"They collaborated with us in identifying the treatment, tools, and professionals we would need to assess and treat the person described in the case,” says López González, the team’s organizer and a bilingual speech-language pathologist in the PhD program. “Students were engaged in the activity, and some were asking questions regarding the cases and how to become speech-language pathologists or audiologists."
According to statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, there is a huge lack of diversity in the field, which is about 92% White, notes Assistant Professor Megan Gross, who serves as faculty supervisor for López González.
“We believe that one way to address this is to start early with raising awareness and giving youth an opportunity to see themselves in our field,” says Gross, “especially those who are multilingual and from racial/ethnic backgrounds that are underrepresented in our field.”
The students relished the opportunity to serve as role models. Says audiology student Kimberlee Moise, “"Although [we] as grad students were there for the high school students, it was encouraging and inspiring for me personally to see a new group of young minds interested in fields that are often overlooked or generally unknown. I also discovered the field of audiology in high school, but didn’t see many professionals who looked like me. My hope in being there is that the students were further encouraged to pursue interests with a sense of inclusion and purpose."
"Communication disorders is a field that is rapidly growing and always in need of new professionals,” adds audiology student Anna-Maria D’Ambra. “Through talking about both audiology and speech pathology, I grew in my public speaking skills and my ability to communicate about the ins-and-outs of how important our role is to the community."
The department’s successful career day presentation builds on outreach activities conducted last summer during the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative (HSNI) Youth Basketball League. Gross, who attends the monthly HSNI meetings, made the initial connection, but it fell on López González and audiology clinical instructor Tomma Henckel to create the activities that would introduce the youth to their respective fields. Their work included a presentation called "The Power of Communication," which led high schoolers through a series of interactive activities such as a speech-generating iPad app and a video otoscope to see what their ears look like inside.
The department plans to continue these outreach efforts in a variety of communities, including collaborations with the SPHHS Center for Community Health Equity Research and Upward Bound in Springfield. Gross notes that these activities form a key component of the department’s anti-racism action plan.
“Our department has just launched a new multicultural certificate for graduate students, which includes a community immersed learning experience,” says Gross. “Participating in and organizing outreach events [such as these] could be one type of project for students pursuing the certificate, which would provide an additional way to sustain our efforts.”
Recently, Rachael S. Rollins, the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts whose office is spearheading the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, took note of the department’s work. In a thank you letter she sent to Gross, Rawlins recognized "the exemplary work and effort provided by Ada López González and her team with their participation in the You Can Be Anything You Want to Be Career Day." She also shared the positive feedback from Holyoke High School administrators and students after the career day visit, stating that their presentations “resonated with our students...truly amazing!"