Congratulations to our Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, who earned a $333,000 grant from the CSU Chancellor’s Office earlier this year! This grant couldn’t have come at a better time as there are so many priorities that have arisen in recent months in response to shortages of speech-language pathologists and audiologists, the impact of COVID-19, and ongoing acts of racial injustice. We spoke with Department Chair Nidhi Mahendra to learn more about the grant and the impact it will have on the Communicative Disorders & Sciences program and beyond – listen to or read through the interview with Dr. Mahendra below.
“COVID has really upended the way we trained and did clinical practica for our students in the graduate and undergraduate programs, and having this pot of money has allowed us to very quickly move to spending on student memberships in a simulation platform and look at how we might use this as a resource to look at online platforms for clinical observation and telepractice resources.”
Can you introduce yourself to our listeners and readers?
Hi everyone! I’m Nidhi Mahendra, a professor and the chair of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences at the Lurie College of Education at San Jose State University.
How did you become aware of this grant? What is the grant intended for?
It is not a secret to those of us in speech pathology, although others may not know this, that California has one of the most dire shortages in the nation of speech-language pathologists and audiologists. We are basically only better off in the shortage than Nevada, which has the worst shortage of SLPs and audiologists in the country. So that makes you think there should be a lot more impetus to train more qualified SLPs and audiologists in California. Somebody in the CSU Chancellor’s Office did have this exact same idea. There was, in fact, an assembly bill that made it all the way to the state legislature that said, if the CSUs are the primary places where speech-language pathology programs are, why don’t we set aside some sort of earmark or funding to allow them to train more such SLPs? So that assembly bill became a motivation why our chancellor went ahead and set an earmark, a very significant earmark, as a competitive lant for SLP programs in the state to go ahead and compete for it. I found out about this because I knew about the assembly bill, which directly led to this earmark. With my department’ss support – thinking about some needs of the department, and certainly with the dean’s support – we looked at what would be some things that we could get to really expand the program and invest in it. We applied for this grant and were awarded $333,000 over the next five years to look at ways to strengthen different aspects of the program so we actually could admit more SLP students every year.
How has the focus of this grant shifted at all as a result of what’s taken place in recent months – COVID-19, racial (in)justice, etc.?
We’re still extremely happy that we have the grant and, maybe, in a sense, seeing as priorities have in fact shifted for all the right reasons, having sort of a chunk of change in your back pocket really allows you to use that resource very thoughtfully. To give you one example, COVID has really upended the way we trained and did clinical practica for our students in the graduate and undergraduate programs, and having this pot of money has allowed us to very quickly move to spending on student memberships in a simulation platform and look at how we might use this as a resource to look at online platforms for clinical observation and telepractice resources. We’ve been extremely happy that, whereas innovation is the need of the hour, we actually had some resources, in addition to university resources, to be able to have more impact.
Speech Pathology is a poster child for a program that, not just at SJSU but nationwide, we really have to address the inequities as far as who gets into graduate school, and also our perhaps our missteps as a profession at large where we have not really done all we possibly could in recruiting diverse students into graduate school and preparing them better for success at the undergraduate level. I think just like we did use these resources to think about the impact of COVID and how could we use these resources to change clinical training, we have every intention to look at what might we do, whether that’s at the curricular level or at the student training level, and certainly an outreach and recruitment. Since the grant says they want us to recruit more people into graduate school, it seems like a natural fit to say, we also will commit to recruiting, a much more diverse pool of students into graduate programs that we have in the future.
Who all will be involved in the utilization of the grant? What impact do you hope it will have on the CD&S department and community?
I think the stakeholders that will benefit the most will be clients children and adults with communication disorders because we really are taking seriously that over the next five years, we expect to graduate between 15-20% more SLPs from our program every year of the grant. Our hope is that, while we’re really keenly looking at admitting these additional students per year into the graduate program, that we’re also keeping an eye outward to see all the gains we make because this funding will allow us to compete for other federal funding, and the department certainly has a history of exceptional success in personnel preparation grants at the federal level. The other group that will benefit will be students because I do think that if you admit are able to admit more students, you also are able to admit more diverse students. Those two kind of go hand in hand. I can tell you that just with the promise of this very first year this is the first year under the funding that we have brought in our largest class of graduate students, and this seems like a terrific time to be able to make that investment while students and people out there are evaluating the kinds of professional credentials they need to have stable financial futures. In terms of other things that budget in the grant was earmarked for, we’re really looking at what could we do to continue to have cutting edge equipment, access to materials and all kinds of standardized testing and clinical personnel that might bring in some expertise in bilingual speech pathology, for example, and really having some of that reflect in the added need for clinical supervision. Anytime you admit, say, four, five, six, or seven graduate students beyond your numbers from a previous year, you’re also looking at a direct impact where additional clinical practica and supervision have to be offered. We’re really hoping that we’ll be able to shore up the program to continue to do a good job while we’re admitting additional students into the graduate program.
Connect with Lurie College at https://linktr.ee/sjsulurie to receive more news about academic and student life! Audio recorded and edited by Brian Cheung Dooley. Interview transcription provided by otter.ai