Speech and Language Pros Find a Strong Voice in Montana

Imagine a program training medical and educational professionals for Montana, with a 100 percent passing rate on licensing tests and a 100 percent placement rate for graduates.

The Communicative Sciences and Disorders program is doing just that. Thanks to the efforts of stakeholders all across Montana, the program was reinstated in 2008 after nearly 20 years. Housed in the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, its impact is being heard loud and clear, as statistics for the first two classes of graduate level students are impressive. Every graduate has passed Praxis, the national licensing test. Every graduate entering the job market is employed. And 85 percent of them are staying in Montana for their careers. Little wonder, then, that many undergrads have gone on to enroll in the graduate program.

Lucy Hart Paulson, chair of the Communicative Sciences and Disorders program, gives part of the credit to the excellent faculty. “The field of speech and language pathology is enormous,” she says. “You may be working with the entire age span from birth through life. Medical settings. Education settings. Research settings. We have wonderful faculty who give students strong foundations for the areas they’re going into, and a diversity of options.”

She also gives part of the credit to the efforts of the greater community. “It took a lot of energy and commitment from many stakeholders across the state. The University System, the Montana Speech Language and Hearing Association, the Office of Public Instruction, medical professionals, special education directors…the list goes on. So many people had a stake in bringing back the program.”

Jenna Griffin, who graduated in May, is one of those who will continue on to graduate studies. “I always knew I wanted to help people, do something that makes a difference,” Griffin said. “I have a cousin who is a speech language pathologist in Chicago, and I had the chance to spend some time with her, seeing what she does. I was drawn to it, so when I found out The University of Montana was reestablishing the CSD program, I came to visit. When I came here, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

One notable component of the program is a distance learning option, an obvious need in a rural state such as Montana. Many paraprofessionals working in schools and other environments across the state can participate in all classes “virtually” via video and voice, and interact with their cohorts through Moodle software.

A bridging option gives people who have an existing BA in an unrelated field the ability to prepare for graduate level studies. It consists of 10 courses that give the foundation needed to enroll in the MS program. “The bridging option has been incredibly popular,” Hart Paulson says. “We’ve had to create an application process just to help us manage the numbers.”

One indication of the program’s success is the level of competition. Each year, 20-25 students are admitted to the graduate program. Last year, more than 200 applications were received, meaning less than 10 percent of people applying are admitted.

Currently, the program is raising funds to install state of the art audio/video, and acquire the equipment students will need to know how to use recording in the RiteCare Clinic, a practicum site. To receive their master’s, students are required to have at least 400 supervised clinical hours. The audiovisual system will help supervisors work with students, and provide an important tool for the students themselves. “As part of their clinical education, students get access to videotape for services they’re providing,” Hart Paulson notes. “It’s incredibly helpful for them to be able to watch themselves.”

Perhaps the strongest voices for the future of the program come from the people who are the future of the profession: graduating students such as Griffin. “Looking back, I don’t think I could have chosen a better major, a better school, a better town to be living in. It has everything to offer. As far as the program goes, I feel the same way,” Griffin says. “I’ve built connections with professors, and with others in my program who will be colleagues—a professional rapport, but also a personal connection.”

To support the ongoing success of the Communicative Sciences and Disorders program, please consider a gift to the Parker-Boehmler Legacy Fund. For more information, contact Christian Gold Stagg, assistant director of development and alumni relations, at 406.243.4568 or christian.goldstagg@mso.umt.edu.