September 29, 2022 | Matt Kucinski

A kid in a hat holds mouth open with hands across the table from female grad student doing the same.
Jana Feuerstein, a first-year graduate student at Calvin University, works with a client at the on-campus clinic.

There’s a lot happening at 1810 East Beltline in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Each week, more than 100 patients ages 1 to 91 are on-campus to receive speech and hearing services for everything from stroke recovery to language development to hearing rehab, and everything in between.

And while the patients are receiving treatment, dozens of graduate students at Calvin University are gaining invaluable experience.

Unparalleled preparation

“Our speech pathology graduate students are immersed in a rich clinical experience where they serve, along with their clinical supervisors, many different types of people,” said Jill Bates, clinical director for on-campus pediatric and adult neuro clinics at Calvin University. “Students learn the importance of collaborating with other practicing speech language pathologists in the schools and medical settings to ensure quality care of our clients.”

In a graduate student’s first year in the program, they earn more than 100 clinical hours right on campus.

“This is one of the biggest selling points for students to join the program,” said Emily Vedra, the distance education manager for the Speech Pathology and Audiology program. “It prepares students best for their second year when they go into hospitals and schools. They are ready to hit the ground running.”

This kind of experience and access is quite unique in higher education.

“Our students get in the room and provide the actual therapy and have one-on-one mentorship with a clinical instructor,” said Vedra. “It’s way better preparation than most programs we are familiar with.”

How much better? Well, employers are taking notice.

Calvin grads stand out

“Having served on our district's interviewing committee, I have seen firsthand how well Calvin's program and clinic experiences have set up their students to be strong candidates when interviewing,” said Tammi Roose, a speech language pathologist with Wyoming Public Schools. “They typically stand out in the crowd and present as highly skilled and prepared.”

“The Calvin students are provided with an incredible advantage coming into externships. They are introduced to technical and soft skills that are needed in their clinical placements,” said Karen Duffy, Spectrum Health’s Speech Language Pathology Clinical Education Coordinator. “The students have a grasp on standardized testing, documentation, and rapport building that sets them up with a foundation to build on and succeed.”

How do alumni feel about their clinical training? Graduates are thriving.

“Coworkers still don’t believe me when I tell them that I’ve only been an SLP for a few years,” said one recent alum.

Another alum said “the SLPs I work with as well as other staff at my school later told me that they were really impressed with the knowledge and skill I came in with. One of the teachers told me later in the year that she never would have known it was my first job if I hadn’t said it.”

Expanding the program's reach

The raving reviews from employers and alumni are a reason that the program continues to expand to now reach students who are choosing to enroll in the fast-growing online graduate program. The online graduate students have access to similar resources as in-person graduate students, including access to more than 20 practicing SLPs who are experts in voice, aphasia, child language, and adult neuro. The SLPS also serve as mentors.

“Together our amazing clinical staff, academic staff, and graduate students develop client-centered and compassionate care to everyone we serve,” said Bates. “We have grad students who live on the west coast and on the east coast and they are providing treatment to patients who live here in west Michigan. We are so excited to reach students and clients all over the country. We have moved from an in-person clinic to now providing telehealth services to clients around the country. It’s amazing to have that kind of influence and expand our Christian footprint in our field across other communities.”

An unchanging mission

While the opportunities continue to expand for students all over the world, what hasn’t changed about the work at 1810 East Beltline is the “why” behind the work.

“Providing donation-based speech therapy in a Christian setting just makes sense,” said Vedra. “We have built long relationships with clients through this and really have ministered to the whole family. We had a client who had a stroke 30 days ago; he can no longer get therapy due to insurance limits, but this is the most intense time [for him] to get therapy. Operating in this way meets our mission, it prepares our students to be the best for their communities.”

“The clinic is a win-win for both the students and the community. Knowing this resource is available gives our community yet another resource to refer to especially for clients needing an alternative option due to finances or seeking ongoing therapy,” said Duffy.

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