Collaboration Aims at Diversifying Speech-Language Profession

A partnership between Pacific University’s School of Communication Sciences & Disorders and the Northwest Regional Education Service District (NWRESD) aims to diversify the speech-language profession. Data from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association shows the field is predominantly white (92%) and female (96%).

Mary Mitchell
Mary Mitchell, Clinical Assistant Professor

Central to this partnership are Pacific CSD faculty member Mary Mitchell and Ana Lia Oliva, NWRESD program coordinator. The pair have been working tirelessly with SLP leadership for the past two years developing and implementing an integrative program that dovetails with a mutual vision, mission and values to support emerging professionals with an understanding that both communities have underrepresented students.

“We developed a partnership that was intentional around equity, diversity and inclusion and creating a space that was unlike our traditional student placement process where SLP students were matched with their supervisors,” said Ana Lia Oliva, NWRESD program coordinator for school-based speech-language services. “We wanted to systemically develop a process where there was a space and a deeper level relationship between Pacific University’s CSD program and NWRESD.”

That deeper relationship has resulted in more precise match-making for speech-language pathology students in clinical practicum settings. The process integrates supervision style together with student, supervisor, and service region needs for bilingual skills and knowledge of bicultural customs. Mitchell knows the Pacific students and their backgrounds. Oliva knows the supervisors and the NWRESD site needs.

“We’re excited to learn better ways to support our students from diverse lived experiences once they’re here. We’re not just enrolling students, we want to provide a place where all future professionals belong and students can see themselves as being SLPs even though that representation is not always there out in the field,” said Mary Mitchell, clinical assistant professor. “Students may not have an SLP role model that looks like them or has had a similar lived experience. So we are being intentional as we work with early professionals not just as a professional but as a whole person to acknowledge potential challenges and to celebrate the strengths students bring through their lived experience.”

Though the pandemic presented its own set of challenges during the 2020-2021 academic year, telepractice eliminated geographic barriers and opened up the opportunity for Pacific students to serve a more diverse student population in rural areas. Graduate students worked alongside SLP supervisors, who had individual caseloads of up to 60 students in grades K-12, across Tillamook, Columbia, Washington and Clatsop Counties.

During both fall and spring semesters, groups of 10 master’s of speech-language pathology students met weekly with Mitchell, Oliva and their supervisors. This optional mentoring program allowed students to share successes and challenges with the group while developing leadership skills they will be able to use as they enter the workforce after graduation.

Sami Wong SLP ’21, who is in San Francisco on a clinical fellowship, thrived on the weekly group interaction, creativity, problem-solving and the feedback from supervisors, who she says made students feel more like equals.

“There was this great opportunity to partner with one of my classmates and our supervisors to make online videos. The ultimate goal was to build a resource library teaching kids how to make sounds,” Wong said. “Trying to figure out how to do it virtually, what we could use when you can’t be in there using any tactile cues like actually touching or demonstrating. I feel like we had a lot of success filming a video and narrating it and finding other resources online to have a bunch of options.”

As Mitchell and Oliva prepare for the fall semester, they are mindful of their collaboration’s impact on the SLP landscape. The partnership has increased opportunities for bilingual and bicultural supervisors to work with Pacific students and for students to learn and implement best practice in service to bilingual, rural and under-served populations.

This spring marked the first year a cohort graduated from Pacific’s master’s of speech-language program with more than half the students in the cohort identifying as students of color or from multiracial backgrounds — in part based on the school’s holistic approach to admissions.

“We are deeply grateful to partner with NWRESD through this program. The mission of the School of CSD is to develop a diverse and inclusive workforce of professionals who are ready for entry-level practice,” said Helen Sharp, professor and director of Pacific’s School of Communication Sciences & Disorders. “Among our goals for students is to leave the program with a sense of humility and readiness to learn from each client and family they will serve. The philosophy and values of the NWRESD program align completely with our goals as a program. We look forward to continuing to deepen this partnership in coming years.”

Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021