August 22, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
“This is where I’m meant to be,” says Leslie Lancaster of her career as a speech-language pathologist working with older adults in rehabilitation and outpatient settings. The August graduate left no stone unturned when exploring her options within the field of communication sciences and disorders (COMD). After eight years at USC, Lancaster is leaving with two degrees (BA in English; master of communication disorders in speech-language pathology) and significant clinical and research experience.
Originally from San Diego, Lancaster discovered a passion for linguistics during her undergraduate program at Carolina. She initially thought she’d pursue a master’s in linguistics, but then she found the COMD department. “I researched the COMD program at USC and discovered a whole different path for pursuing work with not just language, but all forms of communication and how I could help those with communication disorders,” Lancaster says.
She quickly joined COMD assistant professor Suzanne Adlof’s South Carolina Research on Language and Literacy (SCROLL) Lab as a research assistant. “Dr. Adlof had a very big impact on my confidence as a student and as a person,” Lancaster says. “She trusted me with important tasks for her research and always modeled what it means to be a respectful, assertive professional in this field.”
I researched the COMD program at USC and discovered a whole different path for pursuing work with not just language, but all forms of communication and how I could help those with communication disorders.
-Leslie Lancaster, MCD Graduate
Her confidence grew yet again when she took on a role with professor Julius Fridriksson’s Aphasia Lab shortly after enrolling in the MCD program, the department’s part-time, distance education path to becoming a speech-language pathologist. In addition to coordinating key events for Fridriksson’s Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery, Lancaster had the opportunity to work directly with research participants with aphasia.
“I would never have had even half of my opportunities during my graduate program if it weren’t for Dr. Fridriksson trusting me to run the day-to-day operations of his lab while completing my graduate program,” Lancaster says. “He would refer to me from time to time as his ‘right hand man,’ and that had a really big impact on me. I wasn’t just a student; I was part of something much bigger.”
Lancaster credits her mentors’ trust in her as a key factor that influenced her to follow her career dreams. Through her courses, clinical placements and research experiences, Lancaster found her niche within the field: working with older adults in rehabilitation and outpatient settings. Last year, her efforts were recognized when she received a scholarship from the Sharon G. Webber Endowed Fellowship Fund, which allowed her to attend the 2016 convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association—an experience she says she will never forget.
Don’t be afraid to ask–find your opportunities for clinical experience and get involved in research in any way you can.
-Leslie Lancaster, MCD Graduate
Next, Lancaster will complete the nine-month clinical fellowship that serves as the entry into the speech-language pathology profession. Long-term, she plans to pursue additional education to investigate the psychosocial issues surrounding speech-language therapy to learn how she can better serve patients with traumatic experiences and loss of speech/language.
While her two jobs, coursework, and clinical placements kept her busy, Lancaster managed to become an integral part of the department. Professor and chair Kenn Apel proved to be an important mentor who helped Lancaster balance her dual roles as student and staff member. “Dr. Apel always treated me with respect to both roles with ease, something I always, always appreciated,” she says. “I felt like I was just as important as anyone else in the department, and also as a student.”
Given Lancaster’s success in her program, it’s not surprising that she recommends it to others. But they’ll have to work for it; just like she did. “Make the most of what you have,” she advises. “There is a reason why people chose the MCD program, and it is usually in some way related to financial/time limitations. We know what it means to multitask, time manage and get stuck in overdrive. Don’t be afraid to ask; find your opportunities for clinical experience and get involved in research in any way you can.”