Volume 43 | Number 1 | Fall 2012

Mia Andersen works with Rowan Sawchentco.

ISU Photographic Services/Susan Duncan

Hearing the Call

Fall 2012 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

Responding to a shortage of speech-language pathologists nationwide and to Idaho rural communities in particular, Idaho State University created a 36-month online Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology program to complement its resident programs.

The online program, which will produce its first graduates in August 2013, allows the kind of access many students need.

"I just would not be able to pursue a career in speech pathology if it were not for ISU's online program," said Lauren Tandy, 28, from Post Falls, Idaho, who has a 2-1/2-year-old child and is pregnant with her second child. "I couldn't have started the pre-professional program anywhere else with a 6-month-old child to care for."

Tandy first heard about the need for speech pathologists when she was living in Kingston, an unincorporated community in northern Idaho located off I-90 east of Coeur d'Alene.

"Part of my decision to get into the field was after I talked to superintendents of schools, teachers, health providers and parents in rural Idaho who expressed the dire need for speech-language pathologists," Tandy said.

Upon graduating she said she plans to practice in north Idaho.

"I have to have a full-time job. Not working is not an option for me," said Mia Anderson, 31, from Atlanta, Ga., who is among those who were on campus this summer, and runs restaurants in her hometown. "There are very few online programs in the country and none in Georgia, so it was great I got into ISU's program. There are about as many options in the field as there are majors in the university."

ISU developed a Web-based program so a student could complete the master's degree online if he or she did not live close to a university that offered such a program, or for students that have other family and work commitments that encompass a major part of their day, said Kathleen Kangas, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the ISU School of Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences.

"There's just such a tremendous need for speech-language pathologists who are needed in a variety of settings," Kangas said. "We saw a need for an online program and one of our major reasons for implementing it was to serve the rural districts in Idaho."

ISU's SLP program is the only one in Idaho. It annually accepts 18 students each at its main Pocatello campus, at ISU-Meridian, and in the online program.

"The program arose because of the significant insight of (the late) Brenda Malepeai, the Clinic Director in the Department," said Anthony Seikel, SLP professor. "She and the faculty recognized our departmental responsibility to the citizens of Idaho, since ISU is the only program that educates speech-language pathologists in the state. We felt that the only way we could meet the needs of rural Idaho was to bring the program to place-bound students."

Students in the online program complete the bulk of their coursework online, but come to the ISU Pocatello campus for eight weeks in the summer to complete clinical work, learn how to treat patients and write reports, and receive in-person instruction from ISU professors and instructors.

This summer's cohort includes students from as far away as the Middle East and Greece abroad, and as far away as Georgia in the United States.

Several of the students commented that despite the fact the program is taught online it has a very personable feel.

"What makes this program are the people like Sarah (Knudson, director of CSED Online Program) or Dr. (Professor, Anthony) Seikel," Anderson said. "They'll pick up the phone and call you just to ask you how you're doing. You can talk to them anytime you want to."

The students keep in touch with each other and with their instructors through various social media and Web communicating platforms. The students use Google Chat to converse with instructors and their peers, there is an online forum designed for the class, and Facebook plays a prominent role.

"In a learning environment and context where it would be easy to feel disconnected, I feel strong personal connections," said Ashley Shank, 28, of Portland, Ore. "Here especially, the instructors are very easy to talk to."

The job outlook is bright for the students in both ISU's online and resident speech pathology programs. Most will have job offers before they graduate and some have had job offers already, early in their completion of the program.

"Our idea was that students in rural Idaho who were able to go to school and gain clinical experience in their home locales would be more likely to stay in those communities and serve them, basically a 'grow your own' philosophy," Seikel said. "As it turns out, it has served not only rural Idaho, but rural and place-bound students across the country.

"Online students are very determined, dedicated, and pro-active," Seikel added. "They work very hard in this program, and are eager to take on more load and responsibility. We are very proud of these students, and feel a great responsibility to them and the profession. We want them to have the best education they can have."

More information in ISU's speech-language pathology program is available online at www.isu.edu/csed/speech.