Name: Elizabeth Straka, MS, CCC-SLP
Position: Owner of Elizabeth Straka Speech Associates, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
How does one become an owner of a private speech-language
practice, an app developer and a savvy businesswoman—and make it look so
simple? Well, if you follow the lead of Elizabeth "Betsy" Straka, you have a few unseen turns of fate and you keep an open mind, that's how. To hear her talk about her accomplishments, it's almost as if she took each step with a shrug and a "Hail, Mary," and it all just happened to work out. No sweat.
"I don't know, I guess I've always wanted to try new things and have rolled with the punches pretty well," Straka says. In addition to celebrating 30 years in private practice, Straka and her husband, Chris, also just launched a second app from their company SLP Tech Tools, which they started in 2010. Straka readily admits that developing and marketing an app involved a steep learning curve and "a lot of communication with your spouse." But she also reflects on it with a sense of calm and appreciation and says, "Yeah, it was fun," as if she were describing a nice vacation she took—a series of fortunate events that fell into place.
Which is kind of how she got into speech-language pathology
in the first place. Born and raised in Colorado, Straka had no intention of
leaving her home state and went to the University of Colorado to study pre-med.
That's when fate stepped in.
When she showed up on campus her freshman year, the
university had no records of the classes for which she had preregistered. In
fact, they had no records of her at all. She had to start over, first redoing
her class schedule.
"Those were the days before online registration, and you had to wait in these long lines for each class and hope they had room," she recalls. "As you can imagine, all the exciting pre-med classes were filled." But one class still had room—a voice and diction class.
"The professor made it so intriguing—what the human voice could do—and I was fascinated," she says. "So the next semester I took his linguistics class and fell in love with all the rules of grammar and syntax. Up until that point I had no idea there was a profession like speech-language pathology. I was hooked."
Between college and graduate school she married her husband,
Chris. They later moved to Enid, Okla., so they could get their master's degrees—she in speech-language pathology, he in business administration—at Phillips University. After graduation she secured a speech-language pathology position at a large hospital in Colorado Springs. But again, as fate would have it, that position fell through at the last minute. Undeterred, she noticed a similar open position at a clinic in Pueblo, Colo., only 40 miles away from Colorado Springs. She took the job, even though she had envisioned working somewhere bigger. Looking back, however, she says that it was the perfect place for her at that time in her career. Aside from her supervisor (who she describes as "very hands-off"), she was the only speech-language pathologist at the clinic and took this as an opportunity to learn her own treatment style and rhythm.
"I had felt overwhelmed in graduate school with all the supervision we had—you didn't have [any here]," Straka says. "I developed my own style and didn't have a lot of pressure. I really grew comfortable with the process of speech-language pathology, and they were just glad I was there."
The couple later moved back to Colorado Springs to be near
their families and Straka worked in schools for a couple of years. Although she
said she learned a lot, she also said the school setting didn't jibe with her. As fate would have it (again), toward the end of a school year she bumped into a parent of one of her students. The parent asked Straka if she knew anyone who could provide extracurricular or after-school speech-language services to her daughter. After a minute of thinking, Straka responded, "Yeah, I could do that." She resigned after the school year was over, rented a tiny room in the basement of a Victorian house in downtown Colorado Springs, and opened the door to her private practice in 1984.
"I started with that one little girl, and then they just kept coming," Straka says. "It got busy pretty quickly."
Today Straka Speech Associates is thriving, with its eight
SLPs treating children and adults with a variety of speech-language and
swallowing needs. But Straka isn't one to keep the status quo.
After seeing the power of an iPad in 2010, Straka and her
husband decided to become app developers. As was her style, she embarked on the
project with a shrug and the thought, "If it works, it works." Their first app was SLP Minimal Pairs and they just released their second app, Drillaby. Both are designed to target articulation for children. And the possibility is always there that they'll create another app, she says.
"I think we may take a break for a while and just see what happens," Straka says. "Usually it's when I'm not expecting anything to change, that's when it does. I'll just roll with it."