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Master of Speech-Language Pathology

Laura Nickerson

Laura Nickerson photo

Bettendorf, Iowa

"The faculty have expertise in different areas of speech-language pathology. And they've worked with both children and adults in medical settings, clinics and schools. They all have unique strengths, which gives us a well-rounded view of the field."

How to succeed

"Before you consider applying to the program, observe a speech-language pathologist for a day. After watching an SLP in a school setting and a rehab setting, I realized this was what I am meant to do."

After earning her degree in English language arts, and an emphasis in education at Doane College in 1996, Laura Nickerson worked in several fields, including schools, a medical setting and an organization that serves the elderly. She also established a tutoring business. Laura has always been fascinated with the field of speech-language pathology, as it encompasses many of her strengths and interests, such as language, communication, science, teaching and serving others. While working in schools, Laura learned from SLPs how to incorporate speech-language activities in the classroom to help students meet their speech-language therapy goals. This experience confirmed and strengthened Laura's desire to become an SLP, and she knew it was time to go to grad school.

After a co-worker told her St. Ambrose was developing an MSLP program that would be offered near her home, Laura was excited to apply to the program. "The program director spoke with me about the program's goals and how MSLP students would serve the community. I'm extremely pleased that I have this unique opportunity, and without having to relocate!"

In her own words

Which faculty member has made an impact?

All of them have impacted me in different ways. Dr. Elisa Huff, for example, is very student-focused. She adapts her class to give us the best learning experience, and combines lecture with in-class activities. She gives us insights into techniques that she has learned during her years of experience in the field. In her Motor Speech Disorders class, we learned how to evaluate a client for neurological disorders that can affect speech and language. Then, we practiced the techniques by performing oral-facial examinations on classmates. We had read about these and discussed them in class, but the procedure came to life when we actually practiced with the gloves and tongue depressors.

What’s your clinic experience like?

A strength of the program is that clinic experiences begin right away. Our clinic placements reflect the types of settings we'll encounter in our careers. We get experience working with a variety of clients, ranging from children to adults. I know that when I graduate, I will have the skills, knowledge and experience to be successful in the field of speech-language pathology.

In the first semester, I helped conduct screenings in area preschools and daycares to identify which children were at risk for speech-language delay. Then I worked with them, developing treatment plans that focused on early intervention. For example with one child, I targeted a specific group of sounds called fricatives during the semester. I used games, puppets and hands-on materials to make the sessions fun and interactive.

Next semester, I'll have the opportunity to work with adult clients.

How have you been able to apply what you are learning to your current jobs a tutor and a dance teacher?

We‘ve been learning about cognitive function and how the brain processes information at various stages, so I've refined some of my teaching strategies accordingly. And I'm applying concrete skills that I'm acquiring in clinic. I've found that children learn best and stay more focused if they know which activities are coming next. Now I begin my tutoring sessions and dance classes with a visual aid that shows students how class will be structured, and I keep the pattern consistent. I'm finding creative ways to make learning as multi-sensory as possible, since we studied that this increases the brain's ability to learn. I include more visual, auditory and tactile elements in my instruction. It's made a significant difference in the student's performance, and has added to their enjoyment as well.

What's the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far?

Our instructors have taught us how to read and evaluate professional literature, so that we can select assessment and treatment methods that are supported by quality research. For example, Dr. Knox has us write a weekly review of an article from a professional journal. The assignments expose us to current topics and areas of research in the field, help us understand the terminology and improve our writing skills. I saw how the scientific method is applied to evidence-based practice and can be used to carefully evaluate existing research.

What is your research project?

I'm comparing techniques used to gather speech samples from children. My instructors have been supportive by teaching us about different areas of speech-language pathology and highlighting potential research topics. Dr. Knox was the first to teach us about language samples. I discussed my ideas with him and he helped me refine my research question. Now that I have my topic and a research plan, next semester I'll begin the actual research.

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