Speech pathology program gives students cohesive experience

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For 2-year-old Hudson Kerstetter, the hours he spends at Calvin College are basically play time. But for Jenn Ehlman and Alyssa Tammeling, students in Calvin’s new five-year bachelor-to-master's speech pathology program, the goals of these sessions are to play catch-up on Hudson’s language development.

Hudson was brought in after his mother noticed he was experiencing frustration when communicating. His vocabulary contained only about 75 words, whereas 200 is the normal range for his age group.

“We’re trying to multi-layer the language so that he can use signs as well as words to make his point clear,” said Ehlman. “We’re trying to make him able to use more forms of communication.”

Calvin’s speech and audiology clinic has expanded to include a pediatric division for toddlers ages 2-5, with plans to begin working with older children later this year. The adult clinic, which has been providing services to stroke patients in the community for 15 years, now will include patients with other injuries.

Changes in the curriculum will allow students to complete their undergraduate degree in three years and their master’s at the end of five years.

For students at Calvin, the new program is an opportunity to treat patients with developmental and medical speech impediments in an on-campus environment. Calvin is the only college in the Grand Rapids area with this type of clinic.

But beyond working with patients and joining the work force a year ahead of their peers at other colleges, Calvin students receive the benefit of seamless integration between coursework and clinical hours.

“We’re being really intentional about how our academics and our clinics are married together,” said Jill Bates, Calvin’s clinical director. Interdepartmental communication ensures that students’ coursework prepares them for what they’ll be doing in treatment.

This level of cohesion is hard to achieve in an off-campus clinical environment, where students may be assigned to work with an autistic child without ever having learned about autism in a classroom.

For Ehlman and Tammeling, Calvin was the right fit because of the level of personalization they found in their educational experience. Ehlman hopes to use her degree toward accent modification, an extremely specialized area of speech pathology. She’s found her instructors to be receptive in helping her fit this interest into her experience.

While higher education has been under increasing scrutiny as to its effectiveness compared to real-world experience, Calvin’s speech pathology program has taken progressive steps to combine the best of both, creating a well-rounded experience for students and well-rounded individuals for future employers, Bates said.

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