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UMD student and client at Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic Photo by Joe Oliveri, LoLa Visuals
Graduate student Michelle Marnich works with her client, Bill Pepping, at the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, located in the Chester Park Building on the UMD campus. Photo by Joe Oliveri, LoLa Visuals

Communication Sciences and Disorders Clinic: Serving the Public, Educating Students


When fifth year senior Danielle Privratsky, a communication sciences and disorders (CSD) major, began applying to graduate schools, she made an exciting discovery. “The clinical work I’ve done at UMD is not always offered at the undergraduate level across the country. It’s been great to get that experience,” she said.

At the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, located in the Chester Park Building on the UMD campus, UMD students at both the graduate and undergraduate level, under the supervision of licensed clinical instructors, work with clients and their families to find solutions to communication challenges. In the process, the students gain and hone important skills they will need in their careers as speech pathologists, audiologists, and clinicians.

The clinic offers free assessments to anyone from the community, whether that’s a young child who seems to be experiencing a delay in language development or an adult who has suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. The clinic serves clients in all age ranges, from toddlers to octogenarians.

It is a valuable resource in the community. “Because this is a teaching clinic, we are able to offer services at an extremely reduced rate,” said Clinical Director Lynette Carlson. “We want people to be able to access our programs. It’s an opportunity for student learning.”

The clinic often serves individuals who have used up their insurance or who don’t have insurance. There is a sliding fee scale and, because it is a teaching clinic, extremely reduced rates. Carlson estimates that the clinic donates about $100,000 worth of services to the community each year.

Learning By Doing
Privratsky came to UMD undecided. “I went to Career Services and took a few assessment tests. I was interested in something health related that combined teaching with helping people. One career on the list was CSD,” Privratsky recalled.

Now, she is not only in the CSD program, applying to graduate schools, but she is also the president of the CSD Club.  The club, which has about 35 members, raises money for people who come to the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic and who are in financial need. “We provide them with gas cards,” she said. Last semester, the club held a music event and silent auction, and this spring they will hold a car wash to raise funds to purchase the cards.

As an undergraduate, Privratsky worked with one client in the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic last semester. “It’s wonderful. We get hands-on experience, and the client gets the therapy they need,” she said. She worked with a young boy who didn’t use verbal language. “We did a lot of games and focused on him saying simple things, requesting things,” she said.

While she worked with the client in a therapy room, her instructor sat in a room next door and viewed the session through a two-way mirror. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to join the instructor in an observation suite to watch each session and learn more about the therapy process

Interacting with parents and caregivers is an important part of what a CSD therapist does. “We have to learn what they want to accomplish,” she said. “They may be new to therapy. You need to ease their concerns. Sometimes you need to give them different technique to try and give them feedback.”

Working with the young boy, Privratsky gained experience dealing with behavioral issues. “It was his first time in a therapy room, so he was learning about the process. Sometimes it took a couple of tries to get him to focus. He really liked trains. I could use that as reinforcement at the end. We’d do certain activities and then he could play with a train,” she said.

In addition to the instructors watching a session from an observation suite, the sessions are also recorded. The student and instructor can then review them afterwards for critique and further insights.

She is interested in pediatric dysphagia, which is a swallowing disorder in children. “I’d like to work in a medical setting,” Privratsky said. She hopes to continue her training at UMD in the CSD graduate program, but wherever she goes, she is well on her way to a successful career.

UMD grad student Michelle Marnich with client - photo by Joe Oliveri  
CSD students work with patients of all ages. Photo by Joe Oliveri  

Digging Deeper
First year graduate student Michelle Marnich is working with approximately five clients this semester. “It’s important that we work with different ages and try different techniques,” she said. Students at the graduate level are studying to become speech-language pathologists, experts in working with individuals who have disorders of communication and swallowing.

Sometimes people need technology to help them speak. In those cases, augmentative or alternative modes of communication need to be incorporated. One device that is often used is similar to an iPad. It can be programmed so that the person can communicate by touching buttons. The device can be customized. “The device starts off as rather generic. We help them make it more personal. It might have sports on it, but if they don’t like sports, we can change it to other things that they are interested in,” Marnich said.

Students and their instructors gear techniques to the family. “We work with the parents, telling them about things to look for and what they should reinforce during outside work,” Marnich said. They also try to meet caregivers where they are. “Sometimes parents don’t do that much outside work. You have to respect that. But if a family wants to be really involved, if you have a really motivated spouse for instance, you have to dig deeper and find more things for them to do.”

Marnich completed her undergraduate work at UMD in the CSD program. She was initially drawn to the program because of the variety of disciplines it draws upon. “It’s a mix of medical, teaching, and physical therapy,” she said.

As a grad student, Marnich will be completing externships in her second year as a graduate student in a hospital and an elementary school. She hasn’t decided on her focus yet but is interested in working with clients who have dysarthria, a motor speech disorder. “The person knows what they want to say, but because of a stroke or traumatic brain injury, they have difficulty communicating.”

The Importance of Research
Research is a big part of both the CSD undergrad and graduate programs. As an undergraduate, Marnich did cleft palate research as part of an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). From that work, she created a project entitled “Public Awareness of Cleft Palate in Duluth, MN and Surrounding Areas.” Marnich’s advisor is Associate Professor Dana R. Collins.

This year, Marnich was awarded the Karlind T. Moller Cleft/Craniofacial Scholarship. In March, she presented her research at the annual ACPA meeting in Indianapolis, Ind. “It was really exciting to see what other people have done/are doing in the field, and it was rewarding to have professionals come up to me and show interest in what I am doing and telling me that I am doing a good job. To me, it reinforces that I am doing something that matters, Marnich said.” Previously, in November, her project was presented at the American Speech Hearing Language Association (ASHA) convention in Chicago, Ill. It was also selected to be part of the Promoting the Next Generation of Researchers (Progeny) project at the ASHA convention, which recognizes first authored undergraduate research. 

Many CSD students, along with faculty, travel to China to take part in a biannual conference. There, researchers from around the world gather to share technologies and methodologies. In the summer of 2013, Privratsky and 14 other students attended the conference in Bejing.

“It was really interesting to see all the different research and to see how much speech therapy work is being done around the world,” Privratsky said. “We presented about our program. We talked about the technology we use, what we use currently for different therapies.” Apparently, they did a good job. The group received the Outstanding Presentation award.

Community of Learners
The Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic offers high quality care. Marnich is grateful for the clients, families, and caretakers that she and CSD’s licensed clinical instructors work with at the clinic. “Without the community, we wouldn’t get the opportunity to learn.”

This real-world experience equates to real-world employment. “We have a 100% employment rate for masters degree graduates,” Carlson said. The communication disorders field is growing. UMD’s CSD department, accredited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association since 1978, continually updates courses to reflect current needs within the professions. This ensures that UMD graduates are some of the best prepared in the nation.

Danielle Privratsky (in green) along with Associate Professor Kent Brorson and other CSD students at the Great Wall in China Danielle Privratsky (seated in purple), along with Associate Professor Kent Brorson and other CSD students, celebrate receiving the Outstanding Presentation Award.

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, April 2014


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