Early Life Experiences Inspire Career Choices

Personal experience introduced Jess Reuter to Speech Pathology at a young age.  While Jess was in second grade, a friend suffered several medical events, which resulted in a coma.  “Once out of the coma, she could not walk, talk, or even eat; she had to learn how to do all those basic tasks again. The strange medical events happened again when we were in 7th grade, but this time I had a better understanding of what was going on.”
Experiencing this level of illness and recovery with her friend made Jess aware of communication disorders and that there are careers dedicated to assisting people to overcoming medical issues.  “Talking and eating are things that we take for granted. I was truly inspired by my friend’s progress in relearning to do those tasks. A few years later, I shadowed an speech-language pathologist at the hospital in my hometown and knew that that was the career for me.“  Jess Reuter is a second year Speech Pathology Graduate Student at UNI.  Speech Pathologists are medical professionals who diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders caused by stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, a cleft palate, and other issues. 
Most Speech Pathologists earn a Masters degree and choose to focus on working within the K-12 school systems or in hospitals and medical clinics.  It is a field with a better than average job outlook.  More than 120,000 Speech Pathologists and Therapists are working in the Unites States today.  That number is expected to grow by about 19% by 2022.  At UNI, the Speech-Language Pathology Masters degree is a part of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders within the College of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences.
Even though Jess had selected Speech Pathology as her career choice, something else first attracted her to UNI.  “When I was 8 years old I competed in the Bill Riley Talent Competition at the Iowa state fair. While at the fair, a UNI cheerleader gave me a panther tattoo, and I told myself I wanted to go there and be a cheerleader, too. I had my heart set on UNI ever since. When I discovered that they had a prestigious speech-pathology program, I was ecstatic. I also knew that I wanted to continue dancing in college. So, when I made the UNI dance team, it sealed the deal. “  
Jess says that the transition from undergraduate to graduate is amazing but busy.  Her courses involve more problem-based learning and group projects.  Her favorite course has been Introduction to Neurogenic Disorders.  This is a course about how a variety of problems in the nervous system affect communication.  Jess says, “This course is really what convinced me that I wanted to work with the adult neurogenic population as opposed to kids in the schools.  Through this course, I learned about the wide range of patients that I will be working with such as those with traumatic brain injury, dementia, and aphasia resulting from stroke.”  Another important UNI experience was participating in a research team.  “I have truly enjoyed being a part of a research team with one of my professors,  Dr.  Angela Burda. With our research team, we created two apps available on Apple and Android devices called Name That! (PCA and SFA versions). The apps aim to help patients suffering from Aphasia, a language disorder that inhibits speech and language comprehension, improve word finding and picture naming skills. Not only have I had the opportunity to help create the apps, but also to use the app with a patient who suffers from Aphasia. It was so rewarding to see him improve utilizing the app that we created. “
Besides classes, Jess spent three years as a member of the UNI Dance team, including in 2011 when the team was Division I Pom Champions.  She is a member of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and regularly participates in community service.  She even returns home to LeMars, Iowa, to choreograph for her former dance team and local dance studios.  After graduation she plans to return to NW Iowa to serve as a Speech Pathologist in a medical setting. “I aspire to work in hospitals and nursing homes with a variety of patients such as those who have had strokes, or diagnosis such as Parkinson ’s disease, and ALS.”
Jess’s advice to a student considering Speech Pathology is, “I would recommend shadowing a speech language pathologist for a day, or even visiting our department. Students and faculty are more than happy to answer any questions. By  making the wonderful decision to pursue a degree in speech pathology, you are opening yourself up to tremendous diversity in job setting opportunities from the public school and university setting to medical speech pathology, as well as the excitement and ability each and every day to make a positive difference in the life of patient.”  Learn more about the Communication Sciences and Disorders at: http://www.uni.edu/comdis/.

Marcy Seavey, UNI STEM Coordinator