"There's A Story Behind Every Success"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CenturionFive years ago, Lorena Centurion had never heard of speech pathology and audiology, but she ultimately discovered another world that would satisfy her love for children and science and would offer an opportunity to utilize her charisma to adapt to any challenging situation.

It all started during her senior year of high school. After a car accident, Centurion suffered two herniated discs, which is a rupturing of the disc located between the bones of the spine, causing sharp pain, muscle spasms, cramping and weakness. After entering college, Centurion, an exercise science and sports studies major, as well as a women and gender studies major who wanted to pursue a career in physical therapy, began to feel the effects of the accident. “I started losing sensation in my arm and I started getting severe neck pains, so I ended up going to the doctor and getting a full check up again,” says Centurion. Then there was the worst possible scenario. “My doctor told me that physical therapy was not an option. They told me that I would not be physically fit to assist any woman bigger than myself. So, that’s my career,” says Centurion.

Months later Centurion’s mother, a nursery school teacher, discovered an article about speech and language pathologists. “I had never heard of speech therapy before,” states Centurion. “I was like, I wonder what it is.” Centurion soon discovered that this major would engage her with children and with science. “That was it. I was hooked,” she says.

This fascination with speech pathology and audiology has led Centurion and so many others to SC State University. A first semester student in the graduate studies program and a Hispanic who graduated from Rutgers University located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Centurion traveled far to get into a program that is becoming extremely diverse in several ways, according to Dr. Gwendolyn Wilson, chair of the Speech Pathology and Audiology Department at SC State.

First, with the start of the fall semester, the graduate program in Speech Pathology and Audiology accepted 37 graduate students from 24 different Universities in 8 states. “The Universities they represent are broad,” says Wilson.

Next, this diversity is exemplified in the majors that have been accepted into the graduate program. According to Wilson, there are 2 tracks. One track is for those students equipped with an undergraduate degree in speech, while the other track is designed for those students who do not have an undergraduate degree in speech. These students have majored in subjects such as early childhood education, biology, hotel management, psychology, elementary education and more. Students who did not major in speech will be required to take 18 credit hours of prerequisite courses. So, why are these students pursuing a career in this program? “They know about the shortage of speech language pathologists, and because they are interested in the major,” says Wilson.

The Speech Pathology & Audiology Program at SC State is also getting exceedingly interesting and acquiring more attention because SC State will soon be one of two Universities in the state of South Carolina to offer an accredited Master’s Degree in speech-language pathology. This accreditation is given by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). According to Wilson, the Medical University of South Carolina is closing their speech program within the next 2 years. As a result, the competition is steep. “Students must meet and exceed the standards, and I say exceed because we do have a limit. We cannot outgrow ourselves,” states Wilson.

Wilson says that although the student/faculty ratio must be adhered to, she will still look at everything a student has to offer. “If you can hang your hat on something strong and justifiable, we will give you an opportunity,” states Wilson.

Centurion’s strong assets included attending the conferences presented by the Central New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association before being accepted into a University. This association offers continuing education for speech-language pathologists that are already in the field. So, why was Centurion attending? “People would ask, where’s your school system? I wasn’t in a school system yet,” states Centurion. I saved every certificate to show it in my application. I was trying to show that I was putting up an effort,” she continues.

Wilson noticed Centurion’s efforts, including her commitment to the profession. Centurion’s bilingualism was an added incentive. “I know as a person literate in the profession, that bilingual speech and language pathologists can write their ticket,” states Wilson.

There are several students like Centurion who are diligently working on pursuing a career in speech. According to Wilson, one student drives in from Fayetteville, N.C. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, while another graduate student drives from Spartanburg, S.C. for each class.
The incentive for these students include the diversity that is exemplified, as well as the practical experience that is gained through the Speech Pathology and Audiology Program at SC State. Graduate students also help to facilitate the services “provided for the students and for the community, to include speech, language and hearing services to a general public who come in as clients,” notes Wilson. This assistance is performed in the University’s clinic.

These services, ranging from speech and language impairments suffered by children, infants and adults, are provided by students who are directly supervised by faculty. Faculty must be certified by ASHA in order to provide supervision. Students must gain a certain number of clock hours in addition to academic course work in order to perform these services. Wilson says that once graduate students take the theoretical course in a disorder, they must then work with a client in that disorder. Therefore, if there is a course in language development theory, there must be a clinic in language disorders. Or, if there is a course in fluency or stuttering, then there must be a clinic in fluency.
The student and the certified licensed supervisor will monitor the client’s progress. Lesson plans are first initiated and there is a target goal that must be set. Sessions are analyzed shortly after, noting what the client needs to focus on at home, whether or not his/her target was reached, and if not, how far off was the client from reaching their particular goal.

Wilson is proud of the progress that graduate students have made with their respective clients, but she is also particularly proud of the progress on the national exam. “We have a very high pass rate on the national exam,” beams Wilson. All persons entering the profession of speech language pathology must take the National Examination for Speech Pathology and Audiology (NESPA). Is this yet another incentive for students to enroll in SC State’s Speech Pathology and Audiology Program? According to Wilson, it is. “We have students coming to our master’s program, and they come primarily based on our reputation of that high pass rate,” states Wilson.

Diversity, practical experience and a high pass rate on NESPA, are all reasons why the Speech Pathology and Audiology Program at SC State continues to receive high marks and to maintain credibility. Centurion, a first generation college student, had to rearrange her life to move from New Jersey to Orangeburg. “I found out a month before I had to move here for classes, but it was worth it,” says Centurion. “I quit my job because this is what I want.”

For more information on SC State’s Speech Pathology and Audiology Program, contact the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at (803) 536-8074.