A mentoring program designed to provide learning opportunities for disadvantaged youth apparently has inspired at least one new addition to the speech-language pathology field. Earlier this summer, three professors at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport (LSUHSC-S), School of Allied Health Professions (SAHP), Speech-Language Pathology Program, mentored three young women who were interested in medical careers. By the end of the program, one student had stated her desire to work as an SLP.
"One out of three isn't too bad!" said Gay Vekovius, associate professor in the speech-language pathology program. Vekovius, along with professors Mary Pannbacker and Elizabeth Witt, participated in the mentoring program for the first time this year.
During the eight-week program, the students completed two research studies focusing on communicative effort and play participation in late talkers and a hearing screening program for persons with mental retardation. Research findings were presented in poster sessions at the medical center on July 21 and will also be submitted for SAHP's Research Day in October. The students are listed as primary investigators.
The Jumpstart Summer Enrichment Program (JSEP) for high school students and the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program are both intended to encourage disadvantaged students who are interested in medical careers. The programs consider whether students are disadvantaged economically, socially, or educationally. For example, students who work 20 or more hours per week, or those residing in a household where English is not the primary language are eligible to apply. Since 1993, the program has provided opportunities for several hundred students.
Vekovius and Pannbacker decided to participate in the undergraduate program, so they attended an informational luncheon where most of those present had previously served as mentors. One of the attendees, an LSUHSC-S pediatrician, had been mentored through the JSEP program, and she encouraged the professors to consider hosting a high school student.
Intrigued, Pannbacker and Vekovius moved forward with the process. The next step was meeting the applicants, who were so bright and enthusiastic that, rather than deciding on one student to mentor, the professors chose three. A third SAHP professor, Witt, joined their endeavor.
Two of the students, Jessica Darby and Alexandria Groves, are in high school. Talicia Johnson, an undergraduate, had previously participated in the JSEP program. All three earned minimum wage for eight hours a day during the program. The funds came from a federal grant to the LSUHSC-S Office of Multicultural Affairs.
"We took it very seriously. We devised five or six projects for them to select from to work on," Vekovius said. At the same time, the professors wanted to assure that the students had a positive experience and learned other useful skills. The students spent time two days a week at LSUHSC-S's adult learning laboratory, Project Care, where they worked on library research methods, typing, Excel spreadsheets, and speed reading techniques.
Pannbacker and Vekovius met with all three students twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon. Vekovius also prepared schedules for the young women, which included opportunities for observation in both therapy and diagnostics at the facility and at clinics.
The students did substantive research. Darby and Johnson said they enjoyed participating in the toddler program, which included working with clinicians. The two were each assigned to follow a child and transcribe everything said. In the afternoons, they met with Witt and scored the communicative efforts. Johnson can count this experience toward her goal of becoming a pediatrician. It is equally useful for Darby, who wants to study child psychology.
Groves, the student who has declared her interest in becoming an SLP, had her first experience sharing research in the form of a poster presentation. Her project, "An Analysis of the Hearing Screening Data With Persons With Mental Retardation," focused on concerns influencing screening, testing protocol, and management decisions with this population. She noted the care it required, adding, "I wrote it about 13 times."
Additional funds could have supported more students, but not enough mentors were found. "When faculty sees the work these girls have completed, everybody will want to mentor next year. [The students] have done a really good job," Vekovius said. Participating in the mentoring program, while occasionally time-consuming, was very positive, she added. "The fresh enthusiasm and viewpoints that we heard are inspiring for a couple of long-time professionals. We love all of them."
The program went beyond research to community-building experiences. Conversations revealed that one student had a Native American background, while others had Thai, Korean, and African American ancestry. The discussion led to a multicultural luncheon that the students organized for faculty and graduate students.
"Everybody brought an ethnic dish," said Vekovius, who prepared some of her favorite Indian food. "I was so proud of them for organizing the whole thing."
Vekovius is retiring in April 2005, but plans to work with Pannbacker in encouraging others to participate as mentors. In fact, at a July 27 long-range planning meeting for SAHP, Vekovius made a presentation about the mentoring program. "There seemed to be others interested in doing this next year. We are already working on some of our own faculty."