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Arnold School of Public Health

August graduate leverages distance education degree program to optimize work-family balance

October 9, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

Though the Arnold School’s two paths to becoming a speech-language pathologist will undergo a name change in the fall of 2020, the benefits to prospective students remain the same. Equally challenging, both options are offered through the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and involve comprehensive coursework and critical clinical education to prepare graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary for national certification.  In addition to clinical education and placements involving the Montgomery Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic, public schools and private practice facilities throughout South Carolina, clinical education in Communication Sciences and Disorders incorporates a network of more than 600 external partner sites across the United States.

With the full-time, on-campus option (known as a Master of Speech Pathology for current students but transitioning to become a Master of Science – Residential in Speech-Language Pathology), students move through the program in two years. The Master of Communication Disorders (MCD) program (known as Master of Science – Distance-Education in Speech-Language Pathology as of 2020) offers a three-year, part-time option through a mix of distance learning, in-person components and technology-supported live interactions.

It was this second path that appealed most to UofSC alumna Jennifer Gardner. Several years out from her 2011 graduation with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health, Gardner had already gained experience in the public health field through roles such as supporting the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

As I became more familiar with the field, I began to empathize with the challenges individuals with communication and swallowing disorders face, and I developed a great desire to help those in need.

-Jennifer Gardner, Master of Communication Disorders graduate

Originally from Anderson, South Carolina, Gardner and her husband had already settled in nearby Westminister when she began thinking about applying to graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist. She had been introduced to communication sciences and disorders through her undergraduate program and continued learning more about it on her own. 

“As I became more familiar with the field, I began to empathize with the challenges individuals with communication and swallowing disorders face, and I developed a great desire to help those in need,” Gardner says. 

With no options for pursuing the required master’s degree in the surrounding Upstate, she began looking at distance education opportunities. Gardner’s positive experiences as a student on Carolina’s campus and the appeal of the MCD’s distance education format led her to apply to only one school: her alma mater. Her acceptance letter was the second piece of good news she received that Spring. Gardner and her husband had recently learned they were expecting their first child, who was born just one month after her program began. Their second child was born during Gardner’s final year in the program, and the flexible, part-time format allowed her to spend more time with her family while continuing to work toward her career goals.

The MCD program enabled me to go back to graduate school without sacrificing my personal life,” she says. “Another benefit to being in a distance learning program is the ability to pause and rewind lectures. I am a slow note taker, and I felt this feature allowed me to catch and retain more information than I would have in a traditional lecture setting.” 

The MCD program enabled me to go back to graduate school without sacrificing my personal life.

-Jennifer Gardner, Master of Communication Disorders graduate

During the program, Gardner was inspired by COMD clinical assistant professor Elizabeth Barnes, who taught several introductory courses. “Dr. Barnes really contributed to my fundamental knowledge in speech-language pathology. I gained so much from her willingness to be open and share her experiences in the field,” Gardner says. “Throughout my duration in the program I reached out to several faculty and staff members. Each one welcomed my questions and provided me with the knowledge and resources I desired.”

Gardner also expanded her interest areas to include cognitive retraining for individuals who have experienced a traumatic brain injury or stroke. Her goal as a speech-language pathologist is to use evidence-based practice to help adults in her community maintain and regain cognitive-linguistic and swallowing function. In an effort to preserve the work-family balance she established during her master’s program, Gardner intends to work part-time at a rehabilitation hospital. Eventually, she may work full-time at a rehabilitation hospital or outpatient clinic.   

To say Gardner was successful in in her program would be an understatement. She maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout and received the department’s Outstanding MCD Student of the Year Award at the 2019 Arnold School of Public Health Hooding Ceremony. But it wasn’t easy.

“Studying must be a priority if you want to be successful in the MCD program,” Gardner advises prospective students. “This program is not easy, and if you want to do well you must designate times throughout the week to learn and review course material and complete assignments. Having a support system is also key. I was so thankful to have my family, friends, and cohort to lean on when times were tough.”

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