Choosing a major as an undergraduate can be difficult, and oftentimes students change their minds about their chosen paths. For Janice Gordon and Matt Sayers—both of whom are graduating from La Salle’s Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program this month—that change came after entering the field in which they had studied as undergraduates.
Gordon graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. The Blooming Glen, Pa., native then worked as a research associate for the Selective Mutism Research Institute in Jenkintown, a nonprofit organization that studies selective mutism among children. Through the Institute, Gordon met Evelyn Klein, Ph.D., a professor in the Speech-Language Pathology program at La Salle.
“I loved watching her and other speech-language pathologists conduct a speech-language evaluation,” Gordon said. She was so inspired by Klein that she decided she wanted to be a part La Salle’s program.
Sayers’ background and transition into speech-language pathology was a little more complicated. Originally from southern New Jersey, he began his undergraduate career as a cognitive science major because he loved linguistics. He then changed to opera and voice performance, but he later decided that he didn’t want a performer’s life. Sayers graduated in 1999 from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Latin American studies, with the intention of going into finance and international development.
Sayers worked in emergency assistance, mainly coordinating insurance payments for people who were injured traveling abroad, before eventually moving on to the qualified plans department at Vanguard.
“I just didn’t enjoy finance,” he said, “so I wrote down all the things that I was interested in.”
Sayers had an interest in the cognitive aspect of language and vocal anatomy, but he always thought speech-language pathology meant working in schools with children. He later discovered the medical field aspect of speech pathology, like working with stroke patients and those with swallowing disorders and head injuries.
“I really like how there’s an engineering aspect to voice and swallowing,” he said. “If you know how the system works, you can look at a disorder and see how to fix it.”
Once Sayers realized this option, he chose La Salle’s program because of the convenience of the pre-SLP online courses (which he completed prior to enrolling in the M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology program) and the great reputation the University has among employers in the field.
While Sayers’ interest focuses on the hospital and medical side of speech pathology, Gordon’s passion is working with children. La Salle’s program allowed them to get a taste of both fields, as it required time working in schools as well as a hospital rotation.
Gordon and Sayers agreed that the students and faculty in the program made an impact on their experience. Despite the competitive admission process for the program – only a small percentage of applicants are accepted – their classmates were all very supportive.
“Without my classmates, I would not have survived with any grace or dignity,” Gordon said. “It’s nice to have people who can make you laugh and remind you why you’re doing this.”
“Out of 29 students (in the program), there is no one I wouldn’t want treating a family member,” Sayers said.
“You combine the inspirational and down-to-earth faculty and the people selected out of a pool of applicants and you create a perfect storm for a really awesome two years,” Gordon said.
The biggest challenge they faced in returning to school was time management.
“I had limited time to put everything into my work and also learn everything in a new field,” said Gordon, who continued working full time while completing her prerequisite courses. “The faculty made all the difference.”
“Dealing with online education, it’s important to take ownership of why you’re doing it,” Sayers said. “For me, I knew it was starting a second career and to better myself.”
Following graduation, Sayers’ short-term goal is to go right into the medical field. Ideally, he would eventually like to work with head and neck cancer patients—people who have had changes to their speech and swallowing caused by cancer treatments. He is also looking forward to one day pursuing his Ph.D.
Gordon, meanwhile, is excited to jump right into being a clinician. She thinks she may later consider pursuing her Ph.D. and becoming a professor.
“I love connecting with people. I like thinking that academic work and teaching are ahead of me,” she said. “I had such a wonderful mentor in Dr. Klein that I want to be that for someone else.”
-Olivia Biagi, ’11