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National leader Christine Sapienza to lead speech-language pathology programs at JU College of Health Sciences

Dr. Christine Sapienza

Jacksonville University is bringing in a national leader in the field to start up and lead a new department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, with plans for the region’s first master’s degree in the key area of speech-language pathology by fall 2014.

Christine Sapienza will work directly with College of Health Sciences Dean Judith Erickson as they bring new curriculum, professional development opportunities and program innovations to JU.

Starting this fall, JU will open the new department to provide students and professionals who do not have the required background in those areas the prerequisite courses in human communication needed to pursue a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.

JU intends to develop a full undergraduate major for the program in the near future, with the intent to begin the master’s program in speech-language pathology as soon as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) completes its current review for its candidacy application for accreditation.

Sapienza, PhD., chair for the past eight years of the University of Florida’s highly ranked department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, starts July 1 as associate dean of JU’s College of Health Sciences and will build the speech pathology programs.

At full speed, the program’s new faculty members, along with clinical speech pathologists and research staff from JU partner Brooks Rehabilitation, will work with Sapienza as her department moves toward an enrollment of about 30 new students in the program each year.

“Universities in Florida receive hundreds of applications from students annually trying to enroll in graduate speech-language pathology programs, but they can typically accept only 30 to 60 new students,” Sapienza said. “Jacksonville University is a premier institution to establish this new program that works in partnership with the region’s medical community and public school system, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

JU President Tim Cost praised Sapienza as a well-recognized national leader in the speech-pathology field who will bring new ideas, energy and talent to the University.

“Dr. Sapienza instantly brings world-class experience and notoriety that will allow us to attract marquee faculty and superior students to establish JU regionally and nationally in the communications sciences,” he said. “It’s hard to overestimate how important her arrival is for us and for the entire area.”

Using a hybrid model that combines distance-learning modules, in-class teaching and contemporary learning methods, Sapienza and newly hired faculty will offer five core undergraduate courses starting in fall 2013 that provide the tools and knowledge in fundamental concepts of human communication sciences.

“It’s so fitting to make this announcement during Better Hearing and Speech Month, and I am thrilled to bring on and work with someone of the caliber of Christine Sapienza,” Erickson said. “She is known for her high energy and passion for the speech-language pathology field, and she places high value on the discipline and its future contribution to health care and the Jacksonville community. Her insights and reach in the field will ensure that JU establishes one of the leading programs in our state in such a highly marketable field.”

Speech-language pathologists are expected to experience high job growth opportunities in the next decade, with median national annual salaries ranging from $60,000 for SLPs in schools to $70,000 for those in health care settings, according to recent surveys by ASHA.

Several trends point to increased demand for speech-language pathologists, Sapienza said:

  • A growing older population means more people prone to medical conditions that result in speech, language and swallowing problems.
  • Medical advances are improving the survival rate of premature infants, individuals with developmental and physical disorders, people who have experienced head or neck trauma, and individuals who have sustained a stroke or other debilitating disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, all of whom are likely to need assessment and possible treatment by a speech-language pathologist.
  • An increased emphasis has been placed on early identification of speech and language problems in young children.
  • A wave of retirements of current professionals in the field is projected, and a high need is expected for SLPs in both urban and rural settings, as well as in medical settings and public schools.

Because of these and other trends, a report in June 2011 by ASHA using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the national employment rate of speech-language pathologists is expected to grow faster than average through 2018, with a 19 percent increase in job openings estimated between 2008-2018.

“With such a strong future projected for speech-language pathologists, JU has taken a leadership role by offering a modern education option for students that moves the training in this area up a notch,” Sapienza said. “These students will then be brought back into the fold locally. You’re going to see high-quality professionals filling a major need in the region, in the public schools, in medical centers, at long-term care facilities and more.”

For more information about the speech-language pathology program at JU’s College of Health Sciences, call (904) 256-7281.

About Christine Sapienza

Dr. Sapienza is a leader in the field of speech-language pathology. She served as chair of the University of Florida’s department of speech language and hearing department, helping it become a top 10 department within the UF Health Science Center, where she recruited scholars and high-achieving students as well as collaborated on innovative distance learning programs and initiated multiple interdisciplinary research collaborations.

Dr. Sapienza also holds a research career scientist title with the Malcom Randall VA Brain Rehabilitation Research Center in Gainesville, where she leads a current clinical trial on Parkinson’s disease. She has made significant scientific contributions in the area of voice and respiratory function for people with diseases, and has mentored more than 15 doctoral students now working successfully around the country and the world.

Sapienza’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation R&D Service, the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the non-profit CurePSP. She is also author of the graduate textbook “Voice Disorders” (Plural Publishing) and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, as well as numerous book chapters and texts.