Jessica Williams (B.A. 2014)
Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Student
Jessica Williams knows about language centers in the brain, vocal tract anatomy, and treatments for language disorders in children and adults.
She is a graduate student in the highly-ranked M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program at San Diego State University (SDSU). Prior to this, she earned her B.A. in English (Linguistics Track) from CSUSB in 2014, the year when she was also the Outstanding Undergraduate Student for the College of Arts & Letters. After the B.A., Jessica did a post-baccalaureate program in Communicative Disorders at Cal State University, Fullerton (CSUF) in order to complete prerequisite coursework required for her M.A. in SLP application.
Now in the M.A. at SDSU, Jessica takes courses on language disorders, diagnostic methods, and treatments. In addition, her program requires her to complete clinical practicums where she works with children and adults who have language delay, autism, and/or language loss due to brain injury.
In these SLP clinics, what has been particularly gratifying, says Jessica, is “getting to know your clients personally, understanding the struggles they have, finding ways to help them improve . . .and knowing that you’ve made an impact.”
Because her SLP interests are eclectic, Jessica is as yet undecided on a particular professional specialization. But there are a plenty of employment areas she can explore, including speech therapy work in schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and private practice. “I kind of want to do everything,” Jessica says smiling. And over the course of her career, she can.
To other students considering going into SLP, Jessica offers much sound advice. First, they need to know that it is a four to five year educational commitment after the B.A.: approximately two years of post-baccalaureate prerequisite coursework (like Jessica did at CSUF) and then two or three years for the M.A. (Her SDSU program is two years). And SLP courses and clinics are highly demanding. So before students take this plunge, Jessica recommends they do what she did while still an undergrad: ‘Shadow’ real speech therapists at their work and see what they actually do.
Students can also search for SLP graduate programs via the website for ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). In order to improve their chances of being accepted into a program, they need to have both an excellent academic record and extracurricular activities demonstrating commitment to SLP. Before applying to SDSU, Jessica volunteered at an elementary school, joined NSSLHA (National Student Speech Language Hearing Association), and chaired a NSSLHA sister organization focused on multiculturalism. As Jessica points out, it helps if applicants show that they “have some leadership capabilities, are interested in the community, and are actively looking for ways to improve the profession.”
Jessica also strongly encourages students to take their CSUSB linguistics coursework seriously “because it really gives you a solid foundation” for both the postbac and master’s SLP programs. She credits her linguistics track courses with not only helping her understand the “technical aspects” of language but also with raising her awareness of the legitimacy of all dialects. Jessica says that this awareness allows her to distinguish between natural language differences and actual language disorders: As such, she says, “I’m not going to freak out if someone uses English differently than I do. I’m more interested in whether or not their differences in language cause a problem to the point where they can’t communicate within their own community.”
And finally, Jessica offers this wise counsel: While you’re still an undergrad, start researching career possibilities, shadow an expert at work, volunteer, and “get as much experience as possible.”