Clarksville, TN – In 2018, Susan Lingg, a speech-language pathologist and co-owner of Advanced Therapy Solutions (ATS), learned that Austin Peay State University (APSU) was about to launch a program to prepare students for careers in her field.
The new Health and Human Performance degree concentration in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSDI) would provide more trained specialists in the Clarksville-Montgomery County area, and Lingg, excited by this prospect, wondered how she could help.
“There’s a huge need for speech-language pathologists in the country and in the Middle Tennessee area,” she said. “A large portion of our staff drive from Nashville, so a long-term benefit for us would be finding staff from our local community. But we love having students anyways – we look at ourselves as a teaching facility. Working with APSU seemed like a perfect fit.”
Lingg and ATS’s other co-owner, Gloria Garner, contacted Austin Peay State University, and they’ve supported the growing program over the last two years as guest lecturers and consultants. But this spring, they went a step further by making their facility available to the program’s first cohort of seniors so those students can complete clinical experiences in speech-language pathology before they graduate this May.
“These seniors found our program halfway through their college experience, so we had to accelerate them through the program of study,” Dr. Kelly Kleinhans, director of the APSU CSDI program, said. “APSU is renovating space for an on-campus speech and language clinic which will open in the fall of 2021, but these seniors were ready for their first clinical practice in speech-language pathology now. Given the existing partnership and generosity of ATS, I was not surprised when Gloria and Susan said, ‘We close at noon on Fridays, and you’re welcome to use our space.’”
Thanks to this partnership, the CSDI program is operating a 10-week speech and language clinic at ATS this spring. Using the state-of-the-art facility’s many therapy rooms, eight APSU students have spent the last 2 ½ months providing free speech therapy sessions to local children with a variety of communication disorders under the supervision of Kleinhans and Dr. Sarai Ward, APSU assistant professor of Health and Human Performance.
“During these clinicals, we have been applying our foundational knowledge,” Keilanu Harris-Carroll, an APSU CSDI student, said. Wearing red and black scrubs, Harris-Carroll sat with her classmates on the couches in the ATS lobby, waiting for her first client to arrive. “We’ve been reflecting a lot on our skills – seeing what I do that I like, what I don’t like and what I need to work on.”
Before Harris-Carroll and the other students could meet with children in the clinic, they had to log 25 hours of guided observation of speech-language therapy sessions, and Kleinhans made sure each student understood what was required of them before they began their clinicals. The student clinicians are learning about the therapy process from start to finish.
“We work based off the plans of their primary therapists here at ATS,” Katherine Canada, an APSU student, said. “By also meeting with us for additional sessions, it gets the child more practice.”
A little before noon, the students began busying themselves, setting up their therapy rooms for their clients. Alejandra Serrano, a bilingual APSU student, was also using the clinical sessions to help children who sometimes miss out on services because of their limited English-language skills.
“Coming from my Hispanic background, there’s a lot of kids who need these services but there’s that language barrier, and they don’t have those resources or know where to look,” she said. “For me being bilingual and a future speech-language pathologist, that just opens up more doors to be able to help.”
One of her professors, Ward, is a bilingual speech-language pathologist and shares her clinical expertise with Serrano each week.
A little before 1:00pm, the children began arriving for their extra therapy sessions with the APSU student clinicians. The experience is not only helping the children, but it allows the APSU students to prepare for their next step – graduate school. Austin Peay plans to offer a master’s degree in speech-language pathology in 2022.
“Graduate student clinicians must have over 400 hours of practice in speech-language pathology to be eligible for the national credential in the field,” Kleinhans said. “At the end of this clinical experience, these students will have completed about 10 hours of practice, and they will count toward the 400 they must get during grad school.
“Community partners like ATS are a valuable resource for clinical training programs like ours. We continue to collaborate with Gloria and Susan to develop a number of different, innovative and authentic clinical experiences for APSU grad students for when the master’s program launches.”
For information on the program, visit https://www.apsu.edu/programs/undergraduate/communication-sciences-disorders.php.