Sandra Irvin and Lauren Riggleman are 2023 recipients of the Students Preparing for Academic-Research Careers (SPARC)
Award from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). Both students
in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders’ (COMD) M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology program, they are two of only 13 students nationwide to receive this prestigious
award, which includes a $1,000 stipend to support research and mentoring activities.
A different education experience
Irvin discovered the COMD field while studying psychology at Middle Tennessee State
University. She got to know students in the speech-language pathology program during
her senior year when she conducted research with a professor and presented their findings
at the 2019 ASHA Convention and published them in Teaching and Learning in Communication
Sciences & Disorders.
Following her graduation that year, Irvin relocated to upstate South Carolina where
her family resides. She worked in Anderson School District Five and began looking
at graduate programs.
“USC was the first program I considered when I was deciding whether I wanted to pursue
a career in speech-language pathology,” says Irvin, who felt at home when attending
the department’s open house. “I was drawn to USC because of the school’s research
opportunities, location and reputation.”
When she arrived on campus in 2022, Irvin quickly realized that the tight-knit master’s
program would be a different experience from her large undergraduate department, where
she didn’t get to know anyone else in her major. She loves being part of a cohort
where everyone supports one another.
“We share ideas, supplies and clinic materials and help each other learn,” she says.
“I know that I have created long-term professional and personal relationships here,
and I am excited to see what everyone in my cohort achieves here and beyond our time
in this program.”
“Dr. Smolak is incredibly knowledgeable and has been supportive in helping me narrow
down and pursue my interests,” says Irvin, who also found a mentor in associate professor
Suzanne Adlof when applying for the SPARC Award. “It’s clear that everyone in the department loves
what they do and are genuinely interested in helping students succeed.”
She will use the SPARC award to help fund research expenses and travel to conferences.
The program has also opened the door to networking with other students, professionals
and researchers in the field. Irvin is building on these experiences by serving on
the executive board for USC’s chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and enrolling in the Center for Teaching Excellence’s Preparing Future Faculty Program.
For the love of research
In Riggleman's case, speech-language pathology tied together all of her favorite activities
and subjects: theater, language classes and health. As a major bonus, it offered the
chance to make a difference in people’s lives.
The Ohio native had a research-intensive undergraduate experience at Bowling Green
State University. As a COMD major, she had the opportunity to work in a child language
and development lab for three years with Colleen E. Fitzgerald. Together they researched
the determinants (e.g., parental influence) of preschoolers’ language development,
particularly their use of pronouns. Riggleman presented their findings at ASHA Conventions
and co-authored a manuscript that is in preparation.
She spent one summer supporting a clinician who was writing a research-based book
for publication. During another summer, Riggleman provided in-home support to an individual
with developmental disabilities through Independent Beginnings.
“I knew I wanted to try out living in a new state and continue being involved in research
like I had been in undergrad,” says Riggleman, who also loved the opportunity to attend
sporting events and enjoy Columbia’s many amenities, like the Riverwalk and wonderful
restaurants. “USC has an incredible speech-language pathology program with amazing
resources and renowned faculty. The ability to also continue my research as a graduate
assistant was the cherry on top.”
Adlof and doctoral candidate Taylor Berrier have both been important mentors for Riggleman
as she delves deeper into the field of COMD research and begins carving her own path.
Their encouragement and feedback have been essential to her growth as a researcher.
She says the SPARC Award will further her development by offering a unique view into
life as an academic and research professor, and she is rounding out the experience
by serving as secretary for USC’s chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association.
“The COMD program at USC is special because it offers so many graduate positions,
and there are so many resources in Columbia and nearby that you get to have amazing
clinical experiences,” Riggleman says. “I get to continue with research, and working
in a lab also concurrently helps with what I’m learning in class and clinic.”