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Featured Spotlight

What’s in a name? For one Longwood graduate student, a career in speech-language pathology

July 17, 2012

Christian Vaughan image for Spotlights page CGPS

A summer job working at Richmond's Faison School, a nonprofit school for children with autism, changed the direction of Christian Vaughan's life.

There was one child in particular who made an impression on her. He was highly functional but nonverbal, and he had never said his own name. Shortly before Vaughan returned to college at Sewanee in Tennessee, he made a breakthrough.

"Watching a child express himself and say his name for the very first time, that's an incredible feeling," Vaughan said.

It wasn't until Vaughan was back at school, considering what she'd do after graduation, that it hit her-a moment of clarity that sent her sprinting through her residence hall, bursting into the room of a good friend.

"I know what I'm going to do!" she said. "I'm going to be a speech-language pathologist!"

When Vaughan reflected on all the experiences she'd had in college, nothing compared with the day she heard that child say his name for the first time.

Vaughan ran with the idea. A psychology major, she decided to take a year off to gain experience and look for the right speech-language pathology graduate program. She got a job in Atlanta, working on the autism unit at Laurel Heights Hospital, a psychiatric hospital for children.

"The behavior analyst provided us with goals to target-similar to the clients' speech and occupational therapy goals," Vaughan said. "Implementing them, along with observing the speech-language pathologist, really confirmed for me that this was what I wanted."

Vaughan spent her days working at the hospital and her nights researching graduate programs. She knew she was on to something when her search led her to Longwood University.

The university's graduate program in communication sciences and disorders offered a track for students like her who hadn't majored in a related field or taken all the necessary prerequisite courses as an undergraduate.

She could enroll in a three-year program. During the first year, she'd catch up on what she missed-taking undergraduate classes like neurology and anatomy and the physiology of the speech and hearing systems. Then she'd join her peers on the two-year track.

"The content in my courses that first year really prepared me well," she said. "I knew a lot of the theories, but I didn't know the anatomy of the larynx or how to write words out phonetically, some of the basics I'd need for the program."

This past year, Vaughan joined her cohort and, in addition to her graduate courses, she added clinical work at the Longwood Center for Communication, Literacy and Learning. Graduate students work with clients one-on-one and in small groups, gaining valuable feedback from faculty who observe the therapy sessions.

Longwood's program provides all students with a variety of external clinical experiences. Vaughan was placed in a private practice in Richmond, the Evans Family Speech and Hearing clinic. During her second year, she'll work in both school and medical placements.
Longwood's program emphasizes the value of real-world experience. All students complete on-site summer placements. Vaughan opted for a placement at a private practice in Richmond-the Evans Family Speech and Hearing clinic. This fall, she'll begin the first of two semesterlong externships. The first will be at an elementary school in Chesterfield County. She's hopeful the second will be at a hospital in Washington, D.C.

In a hospital setting, the scope of Vaughan's work will grow even wider. Speech-language pathologists see a range of patients, from stroke victims to premature babies to victims of traumatic brain injury. She'll work with voice clients as well as those with swallowing disorders and cognitive issues.

"This is a wonderful occupation with great job security," she said.