By Sheri Webber
Wednesday, June 20, Jacksonville University (JU) Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) student Erin Marsh received a $10,000 scholarship, a grant gifted by Nemours Children’s Specialty Care Clinic and presented during a celebratory dinner at the annual Nemours Cochlear Implant Camp for children with hearing loss at Camp Chewenwaw in Green Cove Springs.
Marsh, a graduate student and intern under Catherine Swanson of Nemours, is in her final year of the competitive graduate-level program that launched in 2014 at JU. She first heard about the scholarship opportunity from JU speech-language pathology and BRCHS professor, Dr. Judith Wingate, who encouraged her students to apply.
During the lengthy interview process, Marsh says, “I just presented the reason I’m pursuing a path working with deaf and hard of hearing.” The reason is straightforward. She is also deaf and hard of hearing, and has a passion for serving children experiencing similar challenges.
“When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with Waardenburg syndrome, a rare genetic condition. I received my first hearing aid and went to speech therapy for a short period. So, I’ve seen the other side, as a patient. The biggest impact for me was being bullied. I stopped wearing my hearing aid. Many of the kids I work with now are affected heavily by this. I understand feeling different and unrealistic expectations, and I believe that I was placed in this program for a reason. I was meant to work with these children.”
Marsh says her goal is to make patients understand that wearing a hearing aid makes them no different than someone who wears glasses, or has short hair, or any other outward characteristic. “Just because someone has a hearing loss doesn’t mean they can’t reach their goals and dreams. I’ve had many people tell me that I would not and cannot be a speech-language pathologist because I have a hearing loss.”
But that hasn’t stopped her.
Marsh completed her undergraduate work in Communications Sciences and Disorders at the University of Central Florida, and says, “It was a broader program and geared more for audiologists. But I would need a master’s to really practice in the field of speech-language pathology.”
However, her applications to multiple graduate programs were rejected based on standardized test scores and lack of clinical experience. She says that few schools seemed interested in her glowing academic record and personal experiences living with a disability.
“When I arrived for orientation, I fell in love with JU. It felt like the professor and students had a great relationship and were a family. I also loved the STAR lab.” She says the faculty immediately engaged with her, and were both encouraging and genuinely interested in the students.
“If you surround yourself with good people, you’ll do good things, and JU has good people.”
Her summer consists of three courses, including the practicum with Nemours. Practicums function like unpaid internships for MS-SLP students, and are required each semester, for a total of four experiences over the two-year program. The Nemours scholarship involves placing recipients into predetermined clinical experiences. For Marsh, clinical time has involved working in a Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at Waterleaf Elementary in Duval county, an outpatient setting at Nemours Specialty Care Clinic, and later, an externship at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.
Currently, she works 15 to 20 hours per week, with most of her time at the main Nemours location in San Marco, working with predominately deaf and hard of hearing children.
According to Marsh, in a specialty area like speech-language pathology, graduate students learn far more in clinical settings than traditional classrooms, as they counsel parents, work directly with patients, and observe professionals in the field. “I’m learning hands-on, and it helps me know this is where I want to be.”
After graduation, Marsh says she’s open to several options, including a career in a school or outpatient clinic environment, but prefers to work with pediatric patients “I like building a rapport with patient families, and have a passion for working with the deaf and hard of hearing population.” She adds that within this patient population she would like to serve lower socioeconomic families. “I want to help students who may not have the resources at home or in their community to better themselves. I want to be a role model for these students.”
To undergraduates considering the MS-SLP program, Marsh offers a bit of advice. “Know why you want to be in this field. You need to have a passion. It’s not all glitter and glitz, and you need a deep desire to help others. It’s going to be hard, but worth it. In the tough times, knowing why you chose this field is important.”
For more details about the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology Program (MS-SLP) at Jacksonville University and planning a career as a speech-language pathologist, please visit JU’s Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences online.