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November 18, 2016

WKU Q and A

I often get questions and queries from other SLPs and those within our professional scope about my graduate and master degree experience.  Unlike traditional students completing an on-campus program, the entire content of my SLP and communication disorder academia and experience was completed online. Like, from my computer.  I am also a non-traditional student because this profession is a second career for me; I came to this field from a completely different path but I have found that my other endeavors and experiences have enhanced my knowledge as a speech-language pathologist. My past has greatly shaped myself as a clinician and I am grateful that I have become a well-rounded clinician.

This blog often attracts a variety of students or prospective CD applicants who want to know specifically more about online learning and my experience with WKU's online communication Disorders program. I even co-presented about online learning at ASHA one year.  It has been quite awhile since I have blogged about that experience, so having a fresh perspective AND hindsight now will hopefully give me some new insight into that process.

(ASHA presentation 2012)

I hope that this current post will allow me to update some of my perceptions and perspectives about online learning.  I am also writing this post in response to some current WKU inquiries about what the online cohort, program, and externships are like.

Disclaimer: Before I get into the main content of this blog post, I'd like to say first and foremost that I am a Topper and will always be a Hilltopper.  WKU is very near and dear to my heart!  I have a previous degree from WKU that I earned from being an on-campus student when I was 18, a B.F.A. in Fine Arts with an emphasis in dance and a first minor in Folk Studies.  I lived in BG for 6 years, worked as a retail manager for Hot Topic, Inc. in Greenwood Mall, and visited Mammoth Cave like it was going out of style.  Returning to WKU to complete a second degree, albeit online, was like second nature to me. 

Here are some of the questions that been recently asked:

Concerning externships:

How many externships did you do?  I did one internship, affectionately dubbed "bootcamp" at WKU which completed during the summer requiring me to relocate to Bowling Green, Kentucky. Additionally, I completed three externships (which was mandatory at the time) in a variety of settings: elementary education (schools), private practice, and nursing home/rehabilitation center. We had to complete 400 hours in a minimum of 3 sites and the placements had to exhibit a variety of client/therapy opportunities.

How did you approach potential sites for externship?  It really depended on the site I was interested in.  Sometimes I called, sometimes I emailed.  It was tricky because I live in a city (Huntsville) that already has a campus CD program (Alabama A&M) and I had to compete with their students for placements.  Often, I'd call a location and once they found out I WASN'T an A&M student they would politely decline.  The most important aspect of finding a potential site is to be diligent and proactive. Don't give up!  NETWORK. NETWORK. NETWORK. Seriously, I was new to Huntsville but the SLP community is a small one. Once I got in and got familiar with some SLPs here, they helped me find placements I wouldn't have normally known about or thought of.  I also completed my school placement in the same area that I was previously an SLP-A (how I got into this profession in the first place).

Back to the networking thing. Here's an interesting story. In the beginning, I feared I was F'd because I wasn't getting any leads or hits for my remaining 2 placements.  I'm involved in a women's group called PEO International which is a philanthropically based women's social group dedicated to promoting women and education. It allowed me to meet new people in Huntsville.  I needed a new job when I moved to Huntsville, preferably with kids so I could get more experience in that area.  One of my PEO sisters owned a day care and immediately hired me.  One of the other toddler teachers was an A&M CD grad student.  She was from Huntsville and knew TONS of contacts. She got me in touch with several SLPs in the area and I immediately snagged my medical and private practice externships.   NETWORK.  NETWORK. NETWORK.

Did you give a lot of details upon first contact (e.g. how many hours, weeks, etc. you would need to complete) or just a basic, "hey, I'm looking for an externship during xyz semester?" I kept it very basic.  Just "Hi I am Eve, a CD student, and I am looking for any potential sites to complete externship hours!" kind of thing.  I wrote a bit more fancier than that (or when I was calling), but less is more.  You can always work out the details later, but the hardest pitch is just being considered in the first place. Most of the time if you bog the person down with too many details at first it might be a turn off.  I am now speaking as an SLP who has taken on many different students (externships and observation hours), so there's some perspective there for sure on how it works from both sides. Remember, all SLPs were in your shoes once! We had to go through the same hoops you did, in most cases.

Did you predetermine which semesters you wanted at which sites? (e.g. Did you tell a school you wanted the fall semester or did you tell the school  you could do either fall or spring, based on their availability?) While I would like to say yes, realistically it was a no.  I had my school-based placement lined up because of my personal connections but that was it. Once I networked with other SLPs in the area, more opportunities opened up for me.  Part of it was hard work, part of it was just luck.

Did you have to relocate at all? Yes. For bootcamp (temporary) and my school-based placement (in southern TN, my hometown).  I was fortunate to be able to move in with my parents.  As a newly wed (my wedding was earlier that summer). At the age of 30. Fun times! I knew it was only temporary and for an amazing cause.  I am aware now that WKU CD program requires students within proximity of the campus (160 miles or within) have to find an externship OUTSIDE of that milage... all I can say is, that sucks.  I'm so sorry. :(  It IS one of the downfalls of an online program, no matter what/who the school is.

Concerning experiences:

Will we actually feel prepared to work with clients? Do we learn more applicable info from classes or will we pick everything up in externships?  I think that is going to be different for each individual.  I felt prepared but that was because I'd previously worked under an SLP as an SLP-A for 4 years.  The interesting thing about online learners is that everyone brings something new to the table.  I also think my background in theatre, dance, movement, acting, singing, yoga, and voice was another element I had from my life experiences that others might not have.  I can confidently say that my other cohorts all felt pretty prepared to begin working with clients.  Bootcamp helps to prepare you for that, whether you have hands on experience or not. That's the whole point. If you are very new to providing therapy you won't leave bootcamp feeling like you know everything... but here's a little secret I tell everyone new to this field:  you will work for the rest of your career and probably feel like there's a million things out there you don't know or aren't prepared for!  Grad school CANNOT prepare you for EVERYTHING you will face out in the professional world.  Read that statement again.  It took me some time to realize I just had to roll my sleeves up and keep at it to feel truly confident at what I do... but it takes time, and I still find moments where I don't feel prepared.  It's normal.  It means we want to be good, strong, committed clinicians.

How much oversight happens during Bootcamp?  Oversight as in supervision?  A great deal, I believe there is a percentage (can't remember but it's very high) that has to be directly supervised by your SLP supervisor.  They did a good job of trying to be available to give feedback and allow you to ask questions.  Some of your fellow cohortians will be needier with their time and that's normal.  It happened to our group.  Be patient, take a deep breath, and take it one day at a time.  It's not a perfect system, but it does work.  You will get adequate supervision and support during bootcamp.  HOWEVER... it is not for the feint of heart.  I jokingly call it "SLP hazing."  It felt like it was at the time.  A typed up SOAP note after every session plus this, that, and a million other to-do's for their clinical paperwork made my head turn.  It is in place to make you ready for the real world and does a good job of preparing you to think about every little scenario and interaction you create with your client.

How formal is our training?  Well, if you've had any of the online classes, you know what those learning formats are.  You will receive some overviews at bootcamp, but they will expect you to have an idea of what a therapy session should look and feel like.  Youtube clinical videos.  Utilize the clinical peer-reviewed videos here (for a cost).  Do your homework.  They won't hold your hand but they will guide you if this is something you are totally new at.  If you have completed your observation hours you should have a good idea of how to structure your sessions with clients.  Bootcamp allows you to make connections from print materials (classroom content, research articles, etc) to the therapy room but you have to do the work yourself.

Is it very hands on with a lot of corrective/constructive criticism or more laid back?  Depends on the supervisor, honestly.  They all have very distinct personalities and expectations.  You do get written feedback with every session on a form they complete.  It is constructive. They won't attack you but if something goes amiss, they will help you figure out a way to make the next session better and more productive.  They WILL ask you questions like "Why did you do ____?" and "How did _____ work?" and that is to gauge if you understood what you were trying to accomplish or just winged it.  You need to be able to rationalize what you do. How is your activity functional? What is it trying to accomplish?  "I chose a play-based activity to work with client X because of her young age to keep her engaged and we targeted pronouns with toys, as in 'put HER' in the car, and 'take HIM to the bus' at the conversational level to see if the skill is generalizing."  "I did structured placement-based articulation drill and also utilized minimal pairs to keep client X from gliding his /r/ to a /w/ sound. We used an iPad app to keep him engaged as he likes technology."  Always think about the WHY of a session.  You never want to say something like "We did bubbles because she likes them."  You could say "We were working on joint attention to a preferred activity which was bubbles; I am hoping to build this skill up to single picture requesting for that preferred activity with hand over hand assistance and modeling."  Dr. Brindle has a great story about a CD student who gave a client peanut butter during a session. "Why?" Dr. Brindle probed.  "Because she likes it so much!" the student replied.  Don't be that student.

Did you feel prepared to take the Praxis at the end of our program? I did. I studied for it like a mo-frak.  Here's a post about the process with tips and recommendations (it's probably a bit outdated but still has relevant info).  I do feel that both classes, my externships, and my own studying helped me feel prepared to take and pass the Praxis.  Don't slack, though.  It takes effort and work but if you paid attention in class, you should do fine.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of taking an online master's program?  Be organized.  You have to have a lot of motivation to keep going.  Save early before you apply or begin your externships (like have a nest egg if possible) so you can work less during the program and be less stressed.  Working full time, family full time, CD program full time... it's a LOT to do all at once.   It is possible, though. Keep your notes, you might want to refer back to them as a professional, I do all the time.  Connect with your classmates, those connections will remain throughout and beyond.  I am still in touch with ALL of my cohort classmates via Facebook.  Don't take an online program and think you are getting an easy route to a degree.  This ain't the University of Phoenix. ;)

What were the best and worst bits in your opinion?  Pros: cheaper tuition, good program, good reputation, strong, committed faculty, online and more flexible, having an option to get this education online when I otherwise couldn't, I love WKU already and wanted another WKU degree, BIG RED         Cons:  relocating for bootcamp or externships is no fun, missing family, the workload is INTENSE, the High Hat program we had to do at bootcamp (see this post for more), living in the dorms for bootcamp, having to find my own externships, being stuck in-between externship coordinators (one left the job, one didn't want it and begrudgingly did it but was less than fun to work with and rarely corresponded which was stressful!!!), one professor (to be kept nameless) that everyone dreaded due to various reasons (every program has one)

Any advice to not go crazy in grad school or during externships?  Take it one day at a time.  One event at a time. Get through classes.  Then bootcamp. Then placements.  Try not to think about getting it all done at once or you will go bad!  Be frugal, school is expensive enough. Use your time wisely and multitask if you can. Write in a journal. Blog, like me!  Seriously, I started this blog as a project (required) when I was a CD student.  I'm still here, blogging out my experience, through the good days and the bad. Network with other students or SLPs, you can often get other experiences or insight that you might not have previously considered.  Don't stress eat.  Students can sometimes take their stress out on food, but I would advise against that. Find something you can do on your own time, away from thinking about school-related things.  Yoga, meditate, binge Netflix for half a day, don't forget to give yourself some "me" time also.  It's not all about 100% SLP stuff all the time.  Strike a balance and try to maintain it.

WHEW! I think that's it for now. If there are more questions sent my way I might do a part 2. We'll see.  I think this is a good start. I hope this helps any of you current or future CD/SLP students on campus or in online programs.

Happy speeching!

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