Students from SC State's Speech Pathology and Audiology program.  

South Carolina State University’s Speech Pathology and Audiology program prides itself on cultivating a culturally and linguistically diverse student population. Every day, students, faculty and staff strive to break barriers within the speech pathology field.

“We strongly feel that diversity matters. Recruitment of diverse students is a part of our undergraduate strategic plan,” said Felicia Lawrence, Speech Pathology and Audiology undergraduate coordinator. “The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) and the field of speech pathology are working very hard to increase diversity within our ranks to better reflect the population that we serve.”

According to ASHA’s 2022 Annual Demographic and Employment Data Report, minorities represent less than 10 percent of certified audiologists and speech-language pathologists in the nation. This is something that the department is eager to change.

“It is imperative that our students become diverse leaders. We are strategic in our quest to close the cultural gaps in our field,” Lawrence said.

Along with having a diverse group of students, the department continues to cultivate a hands-on learning experience for them. They are able to do this through the department’s long-standing partnership with the Orangeburg Calhoun Allendale Bamberg Community Action Agency (OCABCAA).

The 40-year partnership has allowed students to earn clinical hours, while providing quality and professional speech, language and hearing screenings to children ages three to five at the OCABCAA facilities.

“It’s been an excellent partnership,” said Calvin Wright, executive director of OCABCAA. “It’s been mutually beneficial to both parties involved because our kids get the benefits of the services and SC State students get the benefit of working with real individuals who need to be diagnosed and treated. We’re extremely pleased on the progress.”

Every year, SC State undergraduate and graduate speech pathology and audiology students screen more than 640 Head Start students throughout the state of South Carolina. They travel to Allendale, Bamberg, Denmark, Neeses and Hampton Counties.

They also screen students from the Child Development Center on the SC State campus and from the Orangeburg County Development Center.

“This hands-on experience brings theory to life for our students,” Lawrence said. “Students learn how to orientate a room to achieve the best possible results from their clients. They learn how to engage with clients of various backgrounds, ages, and disorders.

“As new students come in, we go and screen the children for hearing and speech deficits. This is a part of the federal government’s Head Start initiative,” she said.

Undergraduate students begin hearing and speech/language screenings during the fall semester of their senior year to get them career ready. Because of their superb performance, they have been invited to numerous adult health fairs around the state.

SC State student Kareem Walker, 31, recently graduated from the undergraduate program. He is now enrolled in the graduate program to earn his masters in speech pathology.

“I love the program. I think it has a lot of great educators and role models who exemplify what professionalism looks like in the field,” Walker said. “One thing I was really impressed with is the fact they have loads of experience in the field and are able to better prepare us for the future.”

Growing up in Walterboro, South Carolina, Walker did not see a lot of Black role models in his community or minorities in the field he wanted to go into. Enrolling in the program exposed him to a community of people who were successful in the speech pathology field.

One of the things that he enjoys most about the undergraduate and graduate programs is the hand-on experience offered.

“The main thing that I really like about working with OCABCAA was that we were working with the federal government to help children. It made me realize that there are programs in South Carolina that are actually trying to bridge the gap to help underprivileged individuals,” Walker said.

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