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Arnold School of Public Health


Master of speech pathology students win awards to help prep for academic-research careers

August 15, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Sydney Bassard and Logan Douglass, both master of speech pathology students in the department of communication sciences and disorders (COMD), have been named recipients of the 2018 Students Preparing for Academic-Research Careers (SPARC) Award. Sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, these annual awards are given to only 11 students across the nation.

The SPARC program is part of the Association’s effort to enhance clinical research by fostering students’ interest in pursuing doctoral degrees and academic careers in COMD, where there is a shortage of faculty/researchers. Bassard and Douglass will each receive a $1,000 stipend to support research and mentoring activities. They will continue to work closely with their shared mentor, COMD assistant professor Krystal Werfel, who also mentored and/or assisted with the application process for previous SPARC winners Emily Metze (2017), Sara Straley (2016) and Stacey Sangtian (2015). 

Sydney Bassard didn’t hesitate to commit to USC for her bachelor’s degree after visiting the campus during her senior year of high school. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native knew she wanted to call Columbia home as soon as she stepped on the horseshoe.

During her four years in the Arnold School’s bachelor of science in public health program, Bassard spent two summers working at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. “I found joy in instructing children to think about reading in a different way,” she says. “Seeing the positive effects on the children I worked with confirmed to me that I wanted to be a speech-language pathologist.”

Bassard already knew that she would like to continue the wonderful undergraduate experience that USC had offered her by pursuing a graduate degree at Carolina. Her decision was further confirmed when she met Werfel during her senior year and volunteered in the literacy expert’s Written Language Lab during her final two semesters.

“Dr. Werfel is very hands on with the mentoring process by having have students present at conferences, write research articles, and be actively involved with data collection and analysis,” Bassard explains. “Additionally, she takes an interest in helping me to develop as a a professional—providing guidance on dealing with professional situations that occur.”

She has also found mentors in COMD chair and professor Kenn Apel, whose lab she also volunteered in during her undergraduate program, and Jamy Claire Archer and Gina Crosby-Quinatoa, co-directors of the program’s auditory-verbal track. “As a member of that track, I work with both of them closely, and they have been encouraging as I learn about AVT therapy,” Bassard says. “When I feel unsure of myself, I have found that they positively reassure me of my skills and provide helpful tips to improve.”

Bassard plans to use the SPARC award’s stipend to attend the 2019 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s national convention where she will present the findings of her master’s thesis. After her graduation the same year, she would like to gain experience working with children with hearing loss, perhaps as part of a cochlear implant team, before possibly returning to school to earn a Ph.D.

Douglass was also introduced to Werfel and the COMD department through volunteering in the Written Language Lab as an undergraduate student. Originally from Columbia, attending USC was never a question for the lifelong Gamecock fan.

After graduating with a degree in public relations, Douglass spent a year serving as the Written Language Lab Manager. In this role, she traveled to various states across the country to test children with hearing loss as part of Werfel’s Early Language & Literacy Acquisition study. In 2017, she enrolled in the master of speech pathology program and transitioned to her current role as graduate research assistant.

“Dr. Werfel who has taught me tremendous knowledge about language impairment, literacy in children with hearing loss, and emergent literacy,” Douglass says. “She is someone who has pushed me outside of my comfort zone as a clinician and researcher, and she is someone I will collaborate with for the rest of my career.”

A member of the neurogenic track, Douglass’ career will focus on helping adults with neurological disorders. After her 2019 graduation, she plans to continue expanding her knowledge of working with neurological disabilities that affect swallowing, speech and language.  

Like Bassard, Douglass plans to present her master’s thesis research findings at a major conference—the 2019 Symposium for Research in Child Language Disorders. She will use the award stipend to help fund this research.

During the interim, both plan to continue their research with Werfel as well as their clinical and course education. They are already building their academic-research resumes by presenting at the 2018 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Annual Convention. 

For future students, the two awardees have some advice. Bassard encourages all interested students to shadow speech-language pathologists and get involved with research as well as gain an understanding of the field and the different populations it serves. “Be open-minded about the diversity of communication disorders,” Douglass adds. “And seek mentors that will push you to be a better clinician and researcher.”


Previous Arnold School winners:

COMD student Emily Metze wins national award to support career in academic-research

COMD student Sara Straley wins national award to support master’s thesis research

Two speech-language pathology students win national awards