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Arnold School of Public Health

National award supports master of speech pathology student in quest to work with children with hearing loss

September 6, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

Marissa Castaldo became interested in rehabilitation after her grandmother experienced a stroke. She explored various career paths before stumbling upon speech language pathology and quickly fell in love.

As a junior majoring in public health at UofSC, the New Jersey native contacted communication sciences and disorders (COMD) associate professor Krystal Werfel about an opportunity to volunteer in the researcher’s Written Language Lab, which works to increase educational and occupational opportunities for individuals with communication disorders, particularly children with hearing loss and/or specific language impairment. She learned a lot more about the field, and the experience solidified her decision to pursue a career as a speech language pathologist. 

Castaldo enrolled in the COMD department’s Master of Speech Pathology program following her 2018 bachelor’s graduation and took advantage of the auditory-verbal therapy specialization it offered – knowing it would benefit her career. The experience has deepened Castaldo’s interest in working with children with hearing loss, and she plans to pursue a career in the field, possibly working on a cochlear implant team as well. Long term, she’d like to pursue a Ph.D. in Speech-Language Pathology.

It is these long-range plans to advance the COMD field that led Castaldo to win one of just 11 2019 Students Preparing for Academic-Research Careers (SPARC) Award from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). She plans to use the award’s stipend to present her research at ASHA 's annual conference in Orlando this fall. Castaldo applied for the award after encouragement from Werfel, whom she says has always supported her to pursue her dreams, even when she doesn’t think they are possible.

“Dr. Werfel is a hands-on mentor by encouraging me to write research papers, present at conferences, and become actively involved in data collection and analysis,” she says. “She has provided me with incredible resources to achieve my goals and continues to support me throughout my education and career path.”

As a member of the auditory-verbal track, Castaldo has also worked alongside its co-directors, clinical instructors Jamy Claire Archer and Gina Crosby-Quinatoa. “I work closely with both of them to learn more about children with hearing loss and intervention strategies for them,” she says. “They are extremely informative and encouraging of my career path, and I often seek their advice and support.”

Castaldo’s long-term commitment to the field is also reflected in her dedication to service. During her first year as a master’s student, she was elected to serve as vice president as UofSC’s chapter of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association. This fall, she will lead the chapter as president. 

“Getting involved in the research side of this field helps clinicians gain a better understanding of research and acquire a deeper appreciation for evidence-based practice,” Castaldo advises current and prospective students. “I also recommend seeking out mentors who will support you every step of the way but also encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and do things you never thought were possible.”

Previous Arnold School winners:

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

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


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