The Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University have secured a $2,399,454 grant to fund a five-year project to address the need for diversity in highly trained professionals in speech-language pathology.
The project, known as Project PAL (Preparing Academic Leaders in Speech-Language Pathology to Teach, Conduct Research, and Engage in Professional Service to Improve Outcomes for Children with High Need Communication Disorders), also aims to address the supply of speech-language pathologists.
Ilsa Schwarz, PhD, CCC-SLP, professor emeritus in the UTHSC Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, spearheaded the collaboration, alongside co-investigators Jillian McCarthy, PhD, CCC-SLP, and Erinn Finke, PhD, CCC-SLP, both associate professors in the UTHSC Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, and Melanie Schuele, PhD, professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Schwarz said the Project PAL admissions committee is looking for six candidates, three at UTHSC and three at Vanderbilt, who hope to pursue doctoral degrees in speech and hearing science, strive to promote diversity and inclusion in the field of speech-language pathology, and serve as an inspiration for others.
The primary goal of this project is to equip these future faculty members with specialized training that will enable them to teach, conduct research, and provide culturally and linguistically responsive services to enhance the language and literacy outcomes for children with high-need communication disorders. These disorders encompass a wide range of low- and high-incidence disabilities, emphasizing the need for high-quality and high-intensity language and literacy assessments and interventions to facilitate social and academic progress.”
Ilsa Schwarz, PhD, CCC-SLP, professor emeritus in the UTHSC Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology
According to Dr. Schwarz, the field of speech-language pathology currently is not particularly culturally or linguistically diverse. She said encouraging previously underrepresented groups to pursue doctoral study should improve the language and literacy outcomes for children with high-need communication disorders and reduce educational disparities. To encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds, 80% of the grant funds will go to the participants of the program, ensuring they have the financial support they need to be successful.
“Children with high-need communication disorders from birth to school age often need specialized support like assistive technology and personalized services from professionals who understand their language and literacy development needs as well as needs arising from diverse cultural or linguistic backgrounds,” Dr. Schwarz said. This project is designed to prepare a cohort of experts capable of addressing these issues to reduce educational disparities and improve language and literacy outcomes.