By August Pelliccio and Izzy Manzo
Speech is taken for granted, says Alexis Negron, a communication disorders major.
For some, day-to-day speech is impaired in a sometimes debilitating way, says Negron, vice president of the university’s chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association.
“With a communication disorders major, you work alongside a lot of people who have either special needs [or] autism,” she says. “I knew that this is what I was destined to do.”
She does not have a friend or family member who experiences impaired speech or communication, but Negron has a passion for working with people who need the help.
Negron says the NSSLHA chapter was created out of necessity since communication disorders majors needed more opportunities, she says.
The chapter became officially registered with the nationwide organization in 2018.
“Our No. 1 goal is to raise awareness,” says Negron, “and realize that speaking is something a lot of us take for granted.”
Mariah Eykelhoff, president of NSSLHA, decided to be involved in communication disorders at a young age because of her mother. She watched her be treated for skin cancer, and suffer from complications that resulted in reduced communication function. From that she knew she wanted help others.
“I would go through the packets with her at night and just go through different speech routines to try and get her speech back to normalcy,” says Eykelhoff. “Just to get enough speech out where she had the life quality that she deserved.”
Through dealing with that hardship, Eykelhoff gained strength.
“I don’t look at it like something terrible in my life,” she says.
Michelle DeFelice’s brothers have autism, and, as faculty liaison to NSSLHA, she is inspired to research communication disorders. One brother is non-verbal, which motivates DeFelice to specialize in speech pathology.
“He’s 10 and watching him grow up is what brought me to this career and the path that I’m on,” she says. “I thought that getting involved on the e-board of this new club would be a way to enrich what I’m learning in classes and apply it to the community.”
DeFelice plans to earn a master’s degree, and work in education.
“My goal would be to work in a private school like the one my brother attends, because they do a really great job,” DeFelice says. “I’ve had an immense amount of exposure to the non-verbal population.”
Eykelhoff hopes more awareness of NSSLHA will mean better fundraising.
“We really just want to raise the money in our account and get out in the community,” she says, “[and] advocate for these people with communication disorders and make a difference.”
DeFelice’s next goal as a board member is to create unity between the graduate and undergraduate chapters.
Katie Buckheit, a junior, communication disorders major, serves as secretary to the club. NSSHLA has enriched her experience as a student, she says. Her motivation for the club and studying communication disorders is also the drive for her music minor: a passion for sound.
“I really enjoy making music,” Buckheit says, “but I also have found that, going into audiology, I’m very interested in the process of hearing.”
That interest, paired with the drive to help others, inspires Buckheit to promote NSSHLA, and the department.
“Not all careers place you in a position where you’re able to change someone’s life in that way,” she says.
Buckheit plans to help rehabilitate communication and speaking for individuals with an impaired sense.
“Keeping that in the back of my head when studies get tough,” says Buckheit, “it’s a nice reminder that there’s something more at the end of this.”
Buckheit says NSSLHA and the Center for Communication Disorders have been especially helpful during her studies. The CCD is staffed by licensed clinicians and faculty members, and serves as a hands-on learning experience. Buckheit says not many universities in the area offer such a learning environment.
“The clinic is a huge asset to our undergrad and graduate degree programs,” says Buckheit.
The standard amount of observation for the area of study is a required 25 hours, according to Buckheit. Working in Davis Hall to complete those hours is an important opportunity to the club members.
“Not all universities have the advantage of having that right in our building,” she says.
NSSLHA and the communication disorders department go hand in hand, according to Buckheit, by providing resources for each other. A film screening of “Speechless,” a documentary portraying the life of individuals suffering from a language disorder called aphasia, was held by the club in 2018.
“We held that not just for communication disorders majors,”
says Negron, “but we held that for the entire school.”
NSSLHA had purchased the rights to show the film, and now that has become a noteworthy tool for the department.
“We have a clinic group of people who have aphasia,” Buckheit says. “We’re looking into doing a showing for them and their family members.”
Buckheit says NSSLHA is the chief opportunity she has to network outside the university, an advantage Buckheit says would not be available if she were “just another student in the department.
Buckheit says the most memorable event was last year’s trip to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in Boston.
Negron says the e-board and six club members were able to go to the conference, which is described as the “premier” annual event for networking within the communication disorders field.
“For all of us…that was our first time going,” Negron says. “So that was a really good career opportunity.”
Eykelhoff takes pride that NSSHLA serves as a network for those in the communication disorders.
She says, “When transitioning into the field, you don’t realize the amount of collaboration you have in either school districts or medical centers.”