Anyone who frequents Pasadena City College has definitely walked by the Center for the Arts building located right in the middle of campus. But past the rose garden and down the hall, in a small, dark hallway at the end of the top floor of the building, lies a small office that can be near impossible to find, if not for the one dozen arrows that point in the room’s direction.
The office, a tiny cubicle full of paper stacks and boxes of speech-language toys for children, is where Professor Beverly Dunbar works from. Dunbar is the coordinator PCC’s Speech-Language Assistant program, which has quickly become one of the most popular programs offered on campus.
The Speech Language Pathology Assistant program (SLPA), is specifically designed for people who want to become speech-language pathology assistants, meaning that they would work under the supervision of a speech language pathologist. They are professionals who work with people who have communication disorders, including but not limited to speech and/or language disorders, which can affect how they communicate and learn.
Dunbar, who is the predecessor of the program after Rosemary Scott (who now works at the DSPS center on campus), has been the SLPA program coordinator at PCC for two years, but has had over 25 years of experience in speech-language pathology.
“That’s something the students seem to appreciate. I was very recently working hands-on and on top of that, I’ve had a really broad experience in the field,” she said. “Most people in the field either work with children or they work with adults and I’ve done both. So when students ask me questions, I have real, practical answers.”
Dunbar served as a Speech Language Pathologist in hospitals for the first 13 years of her career. She then worked in public school districts for the second half of her career, before taking over the SLPA program at PCC.
“It appealed to me, not only from the reactive standpoint because you have to find a lot of creative ways to help people who are struggling, but it also has a very scientific component that appealed to me, she said. “We learn a lot about anatomy and physiology and brain function and trying to figure out why people have difficulty and how to address it.”
The program has an incredibly high demand, but unfortunately does not have the capacity for such a large number of students. According to Dunbar, they have a capacity of roughly 25 people each year.
Those students who manage to get a spot in the program have to be prepared for a heavy workload and must make sure they are dedicated to the field and know that this is their primary goal.
“I think from the outside speech therapy looks like sitting and playing with kids all day,” said Dunbar. “People are often surprised by just how detailed their understanding and knowledge of language needs to be. They also need to be able to write succinctly and quickly and very objectively, and that’s a different style of writing than people are used to. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very gratifying work.”
PCC student Jennifer Jones was one of the few lucky enough to earn a seat in the program this past fall. Jones is taking SLPA courses to gain some experience within the field, but her ultimate goal is to become a Speech Language Pathologist.
“[SLPA] encompasses my two passions of working with children and still being related to the medical field,” said Jones. “I plan to work with both. I think I would like to work with children first, and then in the middle transitions to adults, and then go back to children.”
The program takes a full two years to complete, sometimes even longer than that, due to the heavy load of work, according to Dunbar. The program challenges the students’ ability to help find creative ways to help people who struggle with communication, all while encompassing the scientific component of physiology and brain function.
To complete their Associates in Science degree, SLPA students have a set of general education courses they must fulfill, along with the required courses for the program, which are divided into two categories.
The first is the SLPA designated courses, which encompass an introduction to all the disorders, professional issues in the field, laws and regulations, working under supervision, screening and treatment procedures and field work. These courses have hands-on interaction with children from the Child Development Center and volunteers from the DSP&S center.
“I think the most challenging part of the program would be time management. In the first class, there are observation hours that must be done, so trying to plan those and go to work and school on top of that can be a little challenging,” said Jones. But overall, all the places I went to observe were very helpful and accommodating.”
The second set of courses include child development, psychology, and speech communication classes, along with others that provide students with the knowledge to be a well-rounded SLPA.
According to Jones, having the SLPA courses broken down into specific topics is extremely helpful because “it allows us to go in-depth into everything, and not just skim over some themes that may be really important.”
The program is challenging, but very gratifying, according to Dunbar. The program is state board approved, meaning students who complete the program successfully can automatically register with the State Board in California, upon graduation. Students can then immerse themselves into the career by working in school districts, private practices, or early intervention.
“I think the best part of the program is that it is not just purely lecture, there is a lot of hands on experience that I think make the concepts stick more,” said Jones. “I was able to see first hand what I were going to be doing everyday, and just made me more confident in my choice of pursuing the Speech Language Pathology field. I really enjoy the program, the classes, my classmates, and Professor Dunbar because they all play an integral role in becoming a competent SLPA.”
In addition to all the work she does within the classroom, Dunbar has also developed a group of industry people who come and help her advise the program.
“[They] help me make decisions regarding what kind of coursework there should be, what kind of technology should be incorporated and what kind of materials a student should have access to,” she said. “They also help me find great fieldwork placements for our PCC students, or good master clinicians that should help shape a student along the way.”
SLPA is a growing field, according to Dunbar. The added use of technology has allowed for Speech-Language Pathologists to more deeply assess a client’s communication troubles, as well as use a wider array of tools to help them find non-verbal methods to communicate.
“It hasn’t been around for 50 years. It’s been around for 15-20 years,” she said. “As it grows there will be more and more opportunities because it’s one of the fields that’s one the rise.”
Though Dunbar was a Speech Language Pathologist before joining the PCC staff as the SLPA program director, she plans on sticking with the program here at PCC and hopes to see it further excel.
“I enjoy seeing really passionate, perspective students who want to enter the field, help other people, and create a career for themselves.”