The speech pathology profession is one of the least diverse in the country – a fact that Pacific University’s School of Communication Sciences & Disorders is trying to change.
About 96% of all speech pathologists identify as female, while 92% are white. It’s the fourth whitest profession, right between mining machine operators and mill builders.
“We’re really very different from the general population, but we work with different populations,” said Pacific University Professor Kerry Mandulak, a member of the SLP faculty at the university’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “It doesn’t suit the people we serve. And we’re talking about communication, personal connections, things that are really culturally based. “
The problem, says Mandulak, is not the lack of interest in this area. Rather, it is about barriers that prevent people from different backgrounds from accessing the field.
“The pool is more diverse than what is represented in the workforce,” she said.
In February, Mandulak published an article in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Perspectives publication examining holistic approvals. It is the first in a series of articles that she has proposed to the association on the subject, and she will also write at least one of the upcoming pieces.
Holistic approvals are an approach that Pacific’s Masters program in Speech Pathology has taken and refined since its inception in 2012, based largely on Mandulak’s academic work on the subject.
The approach, which has pioneered the medical field and has expanded into the nursing, pharmacy, and dentistry sectors, focuses on identifying the values of an academic program as well as the attributes that the institution wants to see in students, and then those values to continuously align the approval process.
“It’s about experience, attributes and metrics,” she said. “Yes, we are considering GPA and standardized tests. But what attributes do you bring forward for projected success in this area or success in our program? “
Pacific’s SLP program values community, advocacy, diversity of lived experiences, justice, compassion, and critical research. “So for the application we are looking for students who have proof of these values. Students who focus on community engagement are really successful in our program, ”said Mandulak. “We look at all of these things at the same time. It’s a balanced consideration rather than doing things that cut it off in the beginning. “
Pacific is also focused on ensuring that students have the opportunity to live these values throughout their educational journey through, for example, the school’s gender communication program. “Students who have the value to serve underserved communities have an opportunity here because we have this program.”
The results have been strong. The students taking their Masters in Speech Pathology in the Pacific this spring are a minority majority cohort, with 60% identifying as students of color or multiracial backgrounds. But it’s not just about racial or ethnic diversity, she said.
“In the same cohort, 10 out of 35 college students are first generation and 16 out of 35 have self-reported identification as low (socio-economic status),” she said.
This is important because these students learn not only from faculty but from each other’s experiences – and they bring their expanded perspectives and more complex cultural insights to their health care practice to serve patients.
The School of Communication Sciences & Disorders has partnered with other units in the Pacific, including Audiology, Occupational Therapy, Pharmacy, and PhD in Education and Learning, to align holistic admissions practices across the College of Health Professions and the College of Education.
“We have always implemented some aspects of holistic review since the beginning of the program, but since I was able to learn about it and study it, we have chosen it even more,” said Mandulak. “In 2017 I decided that this would be my research direction. It’s like my life’s work; I want to do that. “
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