In the 80 years since it first began, the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at Michigan State University has transformed into a frontrunner in the study of speech pathology, audiology, communication disorders and more.
In 1937, CSD started as a single interest area in the Department of Speech and Drama at MSU with only one faculty member. Since then, the department has established several successful programs, including a new minor for undergraduate students, a popular master’s program and a resurgent Ph.D. program.
In recent years, CSD has carefully selected respected scholars to join its faculty to lead these growing programs. Among the recruits are award-winning researchers on topics like stuttering, distinguished American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) Fellows and academics with profound enthusiasm for advancement in the field.
New faculty, new students
Jeff Searl joined the CSD faculty in the spring of 2017. Searl came with 16 years of experience as an educator and a dedication to research on speech and voice disorders – both of which recently helped him achieve the title of an ASHA Fellow. The recognition from ASHA is one of the highest honors in the field, and has been awarded to more than 30 MSU CSD faculty and alumni.
Searl said that simply talking about his new role at MSU excites him.
“There’s a real buzz around the department at this point within our profession. In the last four or five years, folks have really taken notice of (it) more and more,” said Searl. “It’s really an attractive department for me to come into because there are other folks ... with interests related to mine, so we can work together collaboratively in the classroom and in the research that we do.”
Professor Eric Hunter, associate chair of the department, said that when he first started four years ago, the department had just started seeing the results of recent measures taken to enhance and increase valuable opportunities for both students and faculty. Today, the department is closer than ever to where they want to be, he said.
“Next year is a completely different game. Strong faculty members doing important research and strong students coming in,” said Hunter. “When I came in, there was a lot of potential. Now, we’re seeing the results and stability that allows for an even greater growth.”
Much of the department’s development can be attributed to the expansion of its academic programs, like the Ph.D. program.
Several years ago, the program was put on hold to reevaluate the curriculum. In August 2016, one Ph.D. student graduated, marking the first to complete the program since its rebirth. Currently, there are six students enrolled in the program, and at least three more coming next fall. Each hoping to follow in the footsteps of the recent grad by receiving their doctoral degree from MSU’s Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders.
“While it is absolutely important to train future clinicians, which our master’s program does well, Ph.D. students are the next generation of academics who will train the next generation of clinicians. Thus, it’s really an indication of where a program is at when you’re preparing a strong cohort of future faculty members to continue to train the students,” said Hunter.
An opportunity for undergraduate excellence
With the Ph.D. program back on its feet and a growing master’s program of 64 students and counting, the department is becoming a popular place for professionals and graduate students to further their learning. Two years ago, the addition of a minor brought additional opportunity for undergraduates to gain knowledge in the field. While all undergraduates can enroll, students who typically choose to take on the CSD minor come from a variety of degree programs such as education, psychology, neuroscience and more.
The MSU chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) – a longstanding national student organization – has been growing in size since the establishment of the minor, according to Kelly Jones, the organization’s president and neuroscience senior pursuing the CSD minor. As a group with more than 50 members, NSSLHA aims to bring attention to the research conducted by people who study communication disorders, as well as volunteer and work in the field at nursing homes and local schools.
Jones said that while she loves her major as a part of the Lyman Briggs College, the people at CSD have blown her away with their knowledge and kindness.
“This department has been overwhelmingly welcoming. All of the faculty members, all of the professors, office staff at Oyer – they’re all extremely friendly, very helpful,” said Jones. “We actually do a lot of our (NSSLHA) events with the faculty members and the professors where we can get to know them better.”
CSD students are also given several international opportunities. The department offers the nation’s longest-running study abroad program for communication disorders to all of its students. They study in London, England; Dublin, Ireland; and Edinburgh, Scotland, and learn about the differences in clinical practices and national health care systems between the countries they visit and the United States.
Learning by doing
Amanda Hampton Wray, assistant professor, admires the way the department organizes its clinical training for students. She believes the training is one of the major things that sets the MSU Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders apart from other schools.
“Most departments have an in-house clinic, so they have their own clinic as a part of the department, and students will work with clients in a controlled clinic with supervisors. Michigan State has chosen instead to send our students all out into the community during the school year,” said Hampton Wray. “This means our students get to see a realistic picture of the caseload and what it’s really like to do that job in that setting very early in their training.”
During these internships, students work with different types of people – children and adults – as well as with various health issues – like swallowing disorders and brain injuries – preparing them to address similar cases in their careers.
Dimitar Deliyski, the chair of the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, said with the new additions and enthusiasm that has joined the department, it will undoubtedly continue to do great things through training and educating students, and conducting research in order to help people all over the world.
“Right now, we have a department which is growing very fast in terms of the research that’s going on and in terms of academics. Then, the next stage will be to sustain that,” said Deliyski.
As for the future of the department, Deliyski noted the importance of growing the program. Not only in size, but also cultivating academic connections, initiatives and big projects.
By Savannah Swix
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