Faulkner’s first SLP graduating class makes history

Faulkner’s first SLP graduating class makes history

Sitting down at the computer, Victoria Jones said a prayer and took a deep breath before taking her PRAXIS examination. Her test results would determine whether or not she could become a licensed speech-language pathologist.  

The next thing she knew, she was jumping up and down in the testing center parking lot with her parents, filled with relief and excitement. She had successfully passed the exam on her first try. 

Jones along with fellow graduate Kelli Stewart Mallett were two of 28 students to make history by being the first to graduate with a Master of Science and Master of Arts in Speech Language Pathology (MS/MA SLP) from Faulkner’s college of health sciences. Although it was not the end they had envisioned for their two years of studies to become licensed clinicians, Jones and Stewart are honored to represent their class and make Faulkner history. 

COVID-19 disrupted the lives of Americans across the nation including Faulkner University’s 2020 graduates. Although receiving their diplomas in May, Faulkner University students had the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments in person at a special ceremony on August 8, 2020 including the university’s inaugural Speech-Language Pathology cohort. 

Jones M.S., CF-SLP was first introduced to speech and language pathology as a child when she needed a speech therapist to help her work on articulation. She didn’t realize SLP targeted so much more than articulation until her mom connected her with the speech therapist who was working at her school at the time. She had the opportunity to shadow her for a day and instantly fell in love with the field. 

“I was drawn to this field because of the diverse disorders targeted and the science behind it all and I wanted to choose a profession that allowed me to interact with people on a personal level and make a positive difference in their lives,” Jones said.  

The 24-year-old Mississippi native graduated from Jackson State University with a Bachelor of Science in Communicative Disorders, before becoming attracted to the graduate program at Faulkner.

“The program at Faulkner fostered my personal and professional growth. I was challenged and encouraged to step outside of my comfort zone and as a result, I have a higher level of confidence as a clinician,” Jones said.  “I also grew as an advocate for the field and my clients. I am so blessed because of the lifelong friendships that I have made and the network of speech-language pathologists that I am forming. However, my favorite thing about the program were the experiences I was offered. During my matriculation, I attended the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing Convention and was awarded a scholarship from the organization, was accepted to present my thesis project at the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association Convention, and completed and published a thesis.”

She was also attracted to Faulkner’s program because of the structure of the academic and clinical rotations. Faulkner’s program allowed her to have two full semesters to complete her independent pediatric and adult internships in her second year, while allowing her to focus on the science and research during her first year.

Her first year was focused on classroom instruction and hands-on experience at the Faulkner University Speech-Language Pathology Clinic where she received encouragement from Dr. Cara Tyson and prayed with Dr. Sheela Stuart to become the therapist she is today. The clinical environment offered Jones a wide range of disorders to assess and treat, which helped her during her independent internships. 

“My professors were supportive and encouraging. They challenged me often and I think it’s important to note that we all grew together,” Jones said. “At the end of the program, I do feel that ultimately, I am prepared because of the knowledge and support I was given. When I began my internships, my placement supervisors were impressed that I had worked with a variety of areas.”

Jones was able to return to Mississippi where she completed her adult and pediatric internships. She finished her adult clinical placement at Lakeland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. During her time at that facility, she enjoyed working with neurogenic and cognitive disorders. Unfortunately, her time at her pediatric clinical placement of Jackson Public School District was cut short due to COVID-19. 

“The few months that I did experience allowed me wonderful insight into how school-based therapists operate. I was fortunate to work alongside my first mentor in the field and gain experience working with preschool to high school aged children,” Jones said. “My internship was an experience that I will forever cherish.”

Her classmate, Mallett, a 23-year-old Birmingham native, studied and graduated with a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Harding University before she was drawn to Faulkner’s graduate SLP program. She said it was an answer to prayer. 

“Initially, like any other under graduate student I was not sure where I wanted to go to graduate school so I began praying. One day at church I spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Mike Williams about their new program they were starting in the fall,” Mallett said. “As the conversation continued on it became abundantly clear that Faulkner’s program was where I wanted to attend. It was obvious that they both were very passionate about helping others and had already poured their hearts into this program that had not even begun yet. Seeing someone care as much as you do about giving others a voice, especially the president of a university, allowed me to see that it wasn’t just another academic program but a mission. I knew Faulkner would do great things and I wanted to be a part of it.”

She was drawn to the field of speech language pathology initially because of the diversity of opportunities speech therapy provides. It allows an SLP clinician to help all stages of life in multiple settings.

“I have always had a passion for helping others and giving a voice to those who are not able to speak up for themselves. After continuous prayer, I felt like being an SLP would help me help those who needed a voice,” Mallett said.

As challenging as the program was, Mallett said studying in the program was one of the most rewarding times of her life and she was grateful for the opportunity. She was also grateful to study at Faulkner’s SLP clinic where she gained critical hands-on experiences working with patients. 

“As graduate clinicians we performed expressive and receptive language, articulation, and fluency therapy sessions,” Mallett said. “We were also able to develop lesson plans, management plans, and monitor therapeutic progress with both the geriatric and pediatric population.”

Like Jones, Mallett decided to return home to continue her second year of internships.

“One thing that appealed to me about Faulkner’s program was in our last year you are able to choose where you perform your clinical rotations,” Mallett said. “I performed my first externship at Green Valley Elementary School and my second at Grandview Medical Center. While conducting my internship I was able to experience a wide variety of patients and settings which allowed me to focus my energy and passion on a specific population.”

Both Jones and Mallett took and passed the PRAXIS on their first attempt. Currently, the SLP program boats a 100 percent pass rate and a 100 percent graduation rate. Jones immediately accepted a clinical fellowship offer at a local elementary school and is set to begin work in August, while Mallett is employed with the Hoover City Schools in Birmingham. 

“I am honored to be a part of the first class of a program that will have a long lasting effect on so many lives,” Mallett said. “I am looking forward to being an advocate to those who are unable to stand up for themselves and helping change lives one patient at a time and will forever be grateful for the knowledge and the relationships that I have gained through Faulkner’s SLP program.”