SPHSC Alumni Stories

Chelsea Wright

Name: Chelsea Shamis
Program: Postbaccalaureate Bachelor of Science in Speech & Hearing Sciences
Year graduated: 2013

Chelsea Shamis graduated from the UW’s Postbaccalaureate program in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences. In this interview, she discusses her experience in the program and how it helped her secure a spot in the UW’s Master of Science program in Speech-Language Pathology, which is ranked third in the nation.

Can you tell us a little bit about your educational and professional background?

I’m from Montana, and I earned my undergraduate degree in elementary education with a reading endorsement, [as well as] my French degree, from Montana State University in Bozeman. I did my student teaching in 2007 in Montana. Then I got my job out here in Seattle, so I moved in August 2008 to work at a clinic with kids with learning disabilities – mostly kids with dyslexia.

Why did you choose to attend the University of Washington’s postbaccalaureate program?

My number one reason was because I wanted to know more about my students. I liked speech and hearing because it has more of a science background. Education is wonderful, and it’s been helpful in my field, but I really wanted to understand the biological basis for why my kids were struggling. The UW is well known for its balance of research and clinical practice, and I wanted to focus on how to use good research and make good decisions about what I was teaching.

The second reason is [the UW] has the number three [speech and hearing sciences] programs in the country, and it’s very evident. Right from the start I knew I wanted to come to the UW just because they’re so good at clinical research. I feel like I’ve gotten so much out of this program; it’s really incredible. When I came to visit, I spoke with the undergraduate adviser, and she was so nice and willing to help me through the merits of the program and what I should think about when deciding to apply.

Why did you decide to pursue a third bachelor’s degree instead of just completing the speech and hearing prerequisite courses for a master’s program?

All master’s programs in speech language pathology require that you have taken certain classes, but I think the fact that the UW takes the extra step in providing you with a bachelor’s degree just tells you a lot about the program. They look at this as a strong foundational year to build your skills before you start the master’s program. All of our professors and classes were integrated; they all built on each other. When you don’t have that comprehensive full-program approach, things might feel a little disconnected.

Can you tell us about your experience with the faculty in the program?

Everyone was so willing to talk to you and make time for you. They’re doing great research, and they make time for students whenever you want advice or if you need help with your subjects. One of our professors went to such great lengths to make sure you understood the materials – she even recorded her lectures so you could re-listen to them later.

I was really impressed with the professors. All of them used research in their lectures to back up what they’re teaching us, and they had really good clinical experience to pull from.

Was there a sense of community within your cohort?

Yes, that is one of the biggest strengths about the postbac program. There are only about 25 of you and summer quarter is quiet, so we got to know each other really well. We would hang out on the weekends and after class. It was such a good experience and really set the stage for our whole year because you have the same classes with the same people for the entire year. I’ve gotten more out of the program because it’s a cohesive group of people. The hard thing is you’re competing for a spot in the graduate program, but everyone was so supportive of each other, and that felt really good.

Did you gain any real-world experience in the program?

There are so many opportunities to work with people [in the clinical realm]. For example, we could go watch therapy sessions at the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic, so it’s really easy to get observation hours. I also got to sit in on a session with a person with aphasia and ask him questions. [The clinic] is such a great resource. You really get a feel for what kind of areas you want to work in. There’s also a class you can take where you get to do hearing screenings in elementary and middle schools, and that’s really fun.

Another good thing is working in a research lab. There’s so much research going on, and the different labs are always looking for people. I volunteered in the aphasia lab on their discourse team. I’ve also been able to spend a small amount of time in the genetics lab [helping with] a study on dyslexia, which is near and dear to my heart.

What would you say are some of your biggest takeaways from this program?

Looking back, I feel like my ability to learn has increased exponentially. It’s really amazing how much we learned in one year. I really feel like that foundation is getting built within me and that I’ll be able to use everything I’ve learned in the master’s program and then eventually in the clinic.

How did this program help shape your educational or career goals?

Before, I was so focused on kids with dyslexia and wanted to learn just about that. Speech and language covers such a broad range of areas, [and this program has] opened me up to studying different areas, like aphasia, apraxia of speech and autism. It’s given me more opportunities for the future. I realized, with my working in the [learning disabilities] clinic, how much I love working one-on-one with people, and the postbac program has really helped me see how much we can help people with communication [disorders].

Would you recommend this program to others? What advice would you give them?

Of course I would recommend this program! It’s the first [time] that I’ve been in a group of people where everyone has an incredible experience. They’ve all worked in the field or have related experience, and they are all mature and have a really positive attitude. I would say be prepared to give it your all and more, but know that you will get so much out of it, too.