Little Acorn to Great Oak

Speech pathology and audiology program to offer master's degree

by Lynn Bolt Rosendal '85
Winter 2010

At 3 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, eager learners fill the second floor of the DeVos Communication Center: students, yes, but not your typical undergrads.

These students are adults of all ages participating in Calvin’s stroke clinic, a practicum hosted by the speech pathology program, a division of the communication arts and sciences department.

Bob, who is in his second year of attending the clinic, struggles to find the right words to express what he is thinking. “You know what you want to say, but you can’t find the right words?” asks student clinician Hanna Lambers. Bob nods. The Calvin students continue their assessment of Bob, pointing at various objects around the room and asking Bob what they are. “… Spoon … faucet … sink … watch,” he responds, after some thinking.

Staff

Helping find the words

Still, he’s frustrated: “I can’t say anything,” he says, haltingly. “You want to be able to talk to people?” asks Lambers. Bob nods. “Then let’s work on that. Can you say, ‘Hi, how are you?’” Bob repeats the question with a smile.

The opportunity to work with real clients is so welcome, according to senior Elise Visbeen. “Just being on the other side of the table is exciting,” she said. “Seeing and understanding what we’ve been learning in class is a great experience.”

“We are clinicians, now,” added senior Erin Laarman. “This is my first experience with clients, and it’s really exciting to see that I have the knowledge to pull together the tasks and treatments that are going to help my clients.”

The stroke clinic, a rarity at undergraduate institutions, has been the students’ only sustained opportunity to work with clients—but that is about to change. The addition of a master’s program in speech pathology and audiology, the third graduate-level program in Calvin’s history, will mean augmenting the program with clinicals for clients with traumatic brain injuries, and children—infants, toddlers and school-aged—with speech or audiology deficits.

The clinical additions, along with more upper-level classes, will provide students with the opportunity to earn a master’s in just five years, pending accreditation approval (anticipated early next year) by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The new program will also require staff additions to professors Vander Woude and Peggy Goetz; Jill Bates, who first envisioned the stroke clinic, will continue as the clinical director.

The addition of a master’s program indicates that speech pathology at Calvin is a world away from where it was a little less than two decades ago, when it was down to just a handful of majors and threatened with elimination by the administration.

In 1992, faced with budget cuts and the impending retirement of professor Marten Vande Guchte, the program’s founder, the administration figured it was the appropriate time to make a break. The speech pathology students thought otherwise. Donning Calvin T-shirts supporting their major, they “picketed” the faculty, encouraging them to vote in support of keeping the program. And it worked.

“I think the administration was thinking, ‘That was a good try for the last 38, 39 years; now, let’s be done with it,” said professor Judy Vander Woude, the current program director. “The students saved the program.”

Program on the move

Since then, the program has grown, topping out at 99 majors this year. “When I heard there were more than 90 majors I thought, ‘Wow, that is unbelievable.’ I’m thrilled about it,” said Vande Guchte. “What do they say? From a little acorn a great oak grows.”

Vande Guchte spent nearly four decades teaching at Calvin, starting the communication disorders—or speech pathology, as it is now called—program with just one class: “Speech Correction.” It grew to a full major: a three-year program at Calvin finishing at Michigan State University.

In 1994, Vander Woude was hired to keep the program growing. “When I came in there were four or five majors, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my word! How am I going to do this?’”

Part of her plan was to increase the program to four years at Calvin. “Students didn’t like having to leave for their senior year,” said Vander Woude.

The change was made in 1996, along with the addition of the stroke clinic, which offered hands-on experience for the students.

“We talked to people in the community, and the word we got back was that stroke patients didn’t have enough support in the community,” said Vander Woude. “Most insurance only covers 60 days of therapy. We wanted what we were doing to be of benefit to the community as well as our students.”

Jill Bates, the program’s clinical director, was the impetus behind the stroke clinic and will head up the future clinics as well.

Steady growth in the program and completion of the DeVos Communication Center in 2002 allowed Vander Woude to start envisioning a master’s program. “I think people wondered why the college was willing to make the investment in this program,” said Vander Woude. “It comes down to this: a commitment to our students that when they leave Calvin they can work in the field. It’s similar to the CPA program that we offer: You need certification before you can get a job.”

Six semesters

A master’s is required for a position as a speech pathologist, and, commonly, it is a two-year advanced-degree program. Calvin’s new program will be a six-semester sequence, beginning in the senior year, and will include two summers, allowing students to complete the requirements for both a bachelor’s and master’s in five years.

Junior Carrie Plantinga plans to continue through the five-year program. “I’m definitely glad about it (the master’s program),” she said. “It means that I can stay at a school that I already know, and I don’t have to apply to other graduate programs. I know that can be pretty stressful, and graduate programs are very competitive to get in to.”

Likewise for sophomore Lindsey Holtrop: “I love the program at Calvin. I thought I wanted to be a teacher so I looked at that, and I also looked at nursing. Speech pathology seems like a really good combination of the two things I’m interested in. I love the fact that faith is incorporated into my classes, and staying at Calvin means that I will be able to do clinical work and observation from a Christian standpoint. ”

And that’s something that makes Calvin distinctive, according to Vander Woude: “The most exciting piece is that we can actually talk about some serious faith issues all the way through this program. We’ve developed themes of justice, poverty, end-of-life issues that we’ve put into the capstone course so that students walk out of here having thought pretty seriously about how they see themselves as Christian speech pathologists. There’s not another program in the U.S. that does that all the way through."