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Arnold School of Public Health


I Am Public Health: Jessica Rice

August 1, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Jessica (Jess) Rice has been on the right career path all along. She’s just been tweaking it along the way. The results speak for themselves as the August graduates leaves UofSC with the 2017 Outstanding Student Award for her program, the master of speech pathology degree offered by the Arnold School’s communication sciences and disorders department.

As an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying communication sciences, Rice knew she was on the right track. After her 2009 graduation, the Rockford, Illinois native returned to her home state and worked for Junior Achievement of Chicago, a non-profit organization that teaches real-world success skills to school-age kids. Through her role planning educational events, recruiting and training volunteers, and fundraising, Rice realized that she was happiest when working with children in the classroom or training adult volunteers in small groups.

“I learned hands-on that I truly enjoy working with people,” she says.

Around the same time, Rice’s best friend began a career as a speech-language pathologist. “When she talked about her job, I was so interested,” Rice says. “I shadowed her at work, and I fell in love with our field. I decided then to quit my job and return to school. It is the best decision that I have ever made.”

When I visited the USC Speech and Hearing Research Center for the first time, I felt so welcome.

-Jessica Rice, MSP Graduate

First she earned a second bachelor’s degree—this time in communication sciences and disorders from Illinois State University. Then she found her way to UofSC.

“When I visited the USC Speech and Hearing Research Center for the first time, I felt so welcome,” Rice says. “The faculty really took the time to talk to me and answer all of my questions. I was so impressed by the resources available in the clinic, and was excited that I would be able to begin working with clients during my first semester.”

Rice’s interest in neurogenics, which was initially sparked by Illinois State professor Jennine Harvey-Northrup, factored into her decision as well. UofSC’s specialty track in this area made the master of speech pathology program Rice’s top choice for graduate school. During her program, Rice took advantage of the faculty’s expertise in communication disorders resulting from changes in the brain due to stroke, dementia, traumatic brain injury and concussion.

I learned so much about what research really entails from Dr. Apel and Victoria Henbest, a doctoral student with the KOOL2 lab, when I was working with them.

-Jessica Rice, MSP Graduate

Rice also immersed herself with work alongside the department’s language and literacy core. As a graduate research assistant in professor and chair Kenn Apel’s Knowledge of Orthographic Learning Lab (KOOL2), she contributed to multiple research projects and helped present the team’s findings at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s annual convention.

“I learned so much about what research really entails from Dr. Apel and Victoria Henbest, a doctoral student with the KOOL2 lab, when I was working with them,” she says. Her master’s thesis focused on literacy skills of children with hearing loss, which she presented at the Association’s annual convention and recently submitted for publication.

These accomplishments helped Rice to be selected for the Master of Speech Pathology Outstanding Student Award—something that she feels humbled and honored to have received. “I was part of a truly amazing cohort and was able to build lasting relationships with so many outstanding future clinicians during my time in graduate school,” says Rice. “I think that my prior career experience gave me a unique perspective, and that my coursework at Illinois State University laid a wonderful foundation for my graduate school classes and clinical experiences.”

After graduation, Rice will get married in the fall. Then she and her husband will move to Texas where he will be stationed as an Air Force pilot. Like all of the Arnold School’s master of speech pathology and master of communication disorders in speech-language pathology (the department’s part-time, distance learning path to becoming a speech-language pathologist) graduates, Rice will complete the profession’s nine-month clinical fellowship requirement. Long-term, she’s hoping to work with adults who have communication problems in an inpatient or outpatient hospital setting.

I was part of a truly amazing cohort and was able to build lasting relationships with so many outstanding future clinicians during my time in graduate school.

-Jessica Rice, MSP Graduate

Succeeding in graduate school is not always easy, and Rice has some advice for those who follow. “I believe it’s important to be truly open to constructive feedback,” says Rice, who always tried to incorporate suggestions from clinical supervisors into her therapy approaches. “In particular, Lucia Tahan and Kikki Thayer have taught me so much about working hands-on with the adult population in a hospital setting.”

But her most important piece of advice is to take some personal time outside of your program. “I made every effort to take one day each weekend away from school work,” she says. “In my free time, I enjoyed attending Gamecock football games, traveling, running, and spending time with family and friends.”