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Arnold School of Public Health

Public health graduate to continue Arnold School education studying speech language pathology

May 4, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Surfside Beach, South Carolina, native Meghan Smith thought she’d go out of state for college, but her mom convinced her to tour UofSC. “The moment that I stepped onto campus, I just looked at her and told her that Carolina was the place that I was supposed to be,” Smith says. “I only applied to one school!”

She did have an idea of what she wanted to study – thanks to a career day hosted by her high school. Smith thought she’d shadow her mother in her classroom, but the school principal invited her to see much more. After observing classrooms of different grade levels, Smith sat in on the special education lessons and then the speech-language pathology sessions.

“From the moment the speech-language pathologist started her lesson, I knew exactly what I was meant to do,” Smith says. “When I got to college, I began volunteering in the Written Language Lab, and it reaffirmed my passion for helping others.”

The President’s List Honoree has worked in this lab, directed by communication sciences and disorders (COMD) associate professor Krystal Werfel, during all three years (she’s graduating a year early) at Carolina. Together, they have examined various aspects of specific language impairment, a communication disorder that interferes with the development of language skills in children who have no hearing loss or intellectual disabilities.

“I’m always in awe of my faculty mentor, Dr. Werfel, who has done so much to provide both educational and occupational opportunities for children with hearing loss and children with specific language impairment,” Smith says. “She conducts research to improve literacy assessment practices, develop and validate effective literacy intervention and instruction, and to increase teacher’s literacy knowledge and skills. She does so much for communities that are not well studied or understood.”

With support from a Magellan Scholarship and a South Carolina Honors College Exploration grant, Smith helped develop a screening measure to detect the presence of specific language impairment. This tool can help teachers determine which students should be referred to speech-language pathologists for further assessment.

“Just working on some of the projects that Dr. Werfel has developed has reaffirmed my passion for helping those with communication disorders,” Smith says. “Because of her work, I know that I am interested in research that could make a difference in the lives of both patients and clinicians for years to come.”

Smith will have the opportunity to continue working with Werfel when she joins the COMD department’s Master of Science program this fall. She would like to contribute to research to learn more about potential genetic causes of specific language impairment and help develop effective treatments to improve the lives of children who have this communication disorder. Long term, Smith would like to gain experience in a clinical practice, school or hospital setting and possibly return to school to earn a Ph.D. 

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