FSU receives federal grants to train speech pathologists

Florida State University’s Department of Communication Disorders has received grants totaling $1.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education that will support graduate students preparing to be speech pathologists in underserved areas.

“These grants are highly competitive, and we were able to build on the department’s previous successes in order to get them,” said Professor Juliann Woods, chair of the communication disorders department. “The grants will allow us to compete with other major universities for the top students and provide students with opportunities to gain specialized knowledge and skills that are key to serving children and students with unique learning needs.”

The two, four-year grants are each $200,000 per year and are provided through the DOE’s Office of Special Education Programs. The grants will cover tuition and stipends for 14 to 16 students pursuing master’s degrees with specialized training in two program areas:

  • Improving Language and Literacy Outcomes for Children with Communication Disorders in High Poverty Communities, which is designed to address the shortage of highly qualified speech pathologists in schools.
  • Traineeship in Interdisciplinary Early Intervention in Severe Disabilities (TIES), which is designed to train graduate students to work with infants and toddlers with severe disabilities from diverse cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

College of Communication Associate Dean Howard Goldstein, who is also the Donald M. Baer Professor of Communication Disorders, is leading the Language and Literacy project. Carla Wood Jackson, assistant professor of communication disorders, is leading the TIES project. Woods is collaborating on both projects.

Students in the “Language and Literacy” program will learn to assess children’s communication abilities and how to design, implement and evaluate individualized intervention methods for children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In addition to the graduate coursework, students in this program will participate in clinical experiences, community outreach and a semester-long internship in a public school.

“There are huge disparities in the language and literacy experiences of children from different social classes,” Goldstein said. “It is a big challenge to try to overcome lack of school readiness skills and to try to help children from poverty and children who are learning English as a second language. Our trainees are taught what foundational skills are needed to allow children to learn to read and succeed in school and how to teach these skills efficiently.”

Students in the TIES program will complete graduate coursework, community outreach and clinical experiences working with children with severe disabilities, such as deafness, autism, and physical or intellectual disabilities.

“There is a critical shortage of speech-language pathologists with specialized training to serve young children with severe disabilities, particularly with a focus on cultural and linguistic diversity,” Jackson said. “We are very fortunate to be able to offer this training opportunity at FSU. The TIES project draws upon the resources and expertise of interdisciplinary professionals and community partners including the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium Migrant Education Program, which offers unique learning experiences to our graduate trainees.”

Both projects are important to help meet the needs of children in high poverty and linguistically diverse communities, according to Woods.

“Without early intervention and ongoing supports, children in high poverty areas start behind and stay behind,” she said.